October 15, 2007

USMC Cpt. Richard Lund educates Code Pink


On September 26, Code Pink members staged an after hours demonstration 9/26 protest in front of a Marine Corps recruiting office that happened to be in San Francisco. Here's a snippet of the event coverage from the Berkeley Daily Planet:

Marge Lasky, a member of Grandmothers Against the War, said she had no idea that the office was there.

"I am pretty shocked it's here," she said. "Why would the marines come into the belly of the beast? Either they are really desperate for recruitment or they think they can get people by being near Berkeley High and the university."

Kali Steel from Code Pink said the group would protest in front of the office every Wednesday until it was shut down.

"This is exactly where our kids hang out," she said. "We don't want military recruiters in Berkeley."

"Keep it up," said a lady in a silver Toyota. "We love what you do."

No one came to drag the protesters away as they stood waving banners and talking for almost two hours.

"It's my first-amendment right," Budd said smiling. "Who's going to stop me?"

Ironic when one considers that Budd obviously has a deep understanding of her constitutional rights under the First Amendment. It's sad that she has no appreciation for how she got those rights or for the Marines who, for the last 231+ years, have fought, bled, and died to protect her right to publicly make an idiot of herself.

In response, Cpt. Richard Lund, USMC officer selection officer for the northern Bay Area wrote this open letter to the Code Pink demonstrators:

While the protest that you staged in front of my office on Wednesday, Sept. 26th, was an exercise of your constitutional rights, the messages that you left behind were insulting, untrue, and ultimately misdirected. Additionally, from the comments quoted in the Berkeley Daily Planet article, it is clear that you have no idea what it is that I do here. Given that I was unaware of your planned protest, I was unable to contest your claims in person, so I will therefore address them here.

First, a little bit about who I am: I am a Marine captain with over eight years of service as a commissioned officer. I flew transport helicopters for most of my time in the Marine Corps before requesting orders to come here. Currently, I am the officer selection officer for the northern Bay Area. My job is to recruit, interview, screen, and evaluate college students and college graduates that show an interest in becoming officers in the Marine Corps. Once they've committed to pursuing this program, I help them apply, and if selected, I help them prepare for the rigors of Officer Candidate School and for the challenges of life as a Marine officer. To be eligible for my programs, you have to be either a full-time college student or a college graduate. I don't pull anyone out of school, and high school students are not eligible.

I moved my office to Berkeley in December of last year. Previously, it was located in an old federal building in Alameda. That building was due to be torn down and I had to find a new location. I choose our new site because of its proximity to UC Berkeley and to the BART station. Most of the candidates in my program either go to Cal or to one of the schools in San Francisco, the East Bay, or the North Bay. Logistically, the Shattuck Square location was the most convenient for them.

Next, you claim that I lie. I have never, and will never, lie to any individual that shows an interest in my programs. I am upfront with everything that is involved at every step of the way and I go out of my way to ensure that they know what to expect when they apply. I tell them that this is not an easy path. I tell them that leading Marines requires a great deal of self-sacrifice. I tell them that, should they succeed in their quest to become a Marine officer, they will almost certainly go to Iraq. In the future, if you plan to attack my integrity, please have the courtesy to explain to me specifically the instances in which you think that I lied.

Next, scrawled across the doorway to my office, you wrote, "Recruiters are Traitors." Please explain this one. How exactly am I a traitor? Was I a traitor when I joined the Marine Corps all those years ago? Is every Marine, therefore, a traitor? Was I a traitor during my two stints in Iraq? Was I a traitor when I was delivering humanitarian aid to the victims of the tsunami in Sumatra? Or do you only consider me a traitor while I am on this job? The fact is, recruitment is and always has been a part of maintaining any military organization. In fact, recruitment is a necessity of any large organization. Large corporations have employees that recruit full-time. Even you, I'm sure, must expend some effort to recruit for Code Pink. So what, exactly, is it that makes me a traitor?

The fact is this: any independent nation must maintain a military (or be allied with those who do) to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. Regardless of what your opinions are of the current administration or the current conflict in Iraq, the U.S. military will be needed again in the future. If your counter-recruitment efforts are ultimately successful, who will defend us if we are directly attacked again as we were at Pearl Harbor? Who would respond if a future terrorist attack targets the Golden Gate Bridge, the BART system, or the UC Berkeley clock tower? And, to address the most hypocritical stance that your organization takes on its website, where would the peace keeping force come from that you advocate sending to Darfur?

Finally, I believe that your efforts in protesting my office are misdirected. I agree that your stated goals of peace and social justice are worthy ones. War is a terrible thing that should only be undertaken in the most dire, extreme, and necessary of circumstances. However, war is made by politicians. The conflict in Iraq was ordered by the president and authorized by Congress. They are the ones who have the power to change the policy in Iraq, not members of the military. We execute policy to the best of our ability and to the best of our human capacity. Protesting in front of my office may be an easy way to get your organization in the headlines of local papers, but it doesn't further any of your stated goals.

To conclude, I don't consider myself a "recruiter." I am a Marine who happens to be on recruiting duty. As such, I conduct myself in accordance with our core values of honor, courage, and commitment. I will never sacrifice my honor by lying to anyone that walks into my office. I will never forsake the courage that it takes to restrain myself in the face of insulting and libelous labels like liar and traitor. And, most importantly, I will never waver from my commitment to helping individuals who desire to serve their country as officers in the Marine Corps.

Code Pink's portrayal of military recruiters as liars and predators, and young men and women as children who need to be protected is insulting and wrong. The ones I've talked with can't get past their talking points - ask them anything outside their comfort zone and they shut down or revert back to their catch phrases. Pink used to be my favorite color, but they've really taken the fun out of it. This latest idiocy by women who should know better is unfortunately, what I would expect from an organization who donated over half a million to insurgents in Fallujah - the same ones that our troops are fighting. Instead of supporting our troops, they've chosen to support the enemy. Kudos to Cpt. Lund for showing them civility in the face of their disrespect. They don't deserve it.

Posted by Deb at 08:17 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 10, 2006

Making a difference

Photo by Sgt. Adaecus G. Brooks, U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Derek Mellor takes a sip of water from his Camelbak during a break in joint patrol with Iraqi army soldiers in Habbaniyah, Iraq, on Nov. 18, 2006. Mellor is a radio operator with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5.

Jim Garamone, AFP, reports from Iraq:

Even with all the debate in the U.S. over Iraq strategy, morale on the ground here is good, the commander of Multinational Force West said today.

Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer said that retention among Marines based in Iraq is more than 140 percent of the goal. "If they didn't think what they were doing was important, then they wouldn't reenlist," he said during an interview.

He said the situation in Anbar province is difficult, but progress is being made. "It's going to be slow," Zilmer said. "We will be at this for a long time."

The general said he is encouraged by cooperation tribal sheikhs are providing the coalition in the province. Local leaders in and around Ramadi finally had enough of al Qaeda in Iraq violence and intimidation and began cooperating with the U.S. forces in the area. "The sheikhs have a lot of power," Zilmer said. "As soon as they put it out that people should cooperate, we started getting volunteers."

The Iraqi police in Anbar are fairly well-manned, but there are problems recruiting soldiers, Zilmer said. Part of that is because police remain local, while soldiers can get assigned anywhere in the country. Another problem is a requirement that Iraqi soldiers know how to read and write. Many men in Anbar province do not have those skills. "Al Qaeda doesn't have that same requirement," Zilmer said.

The help the sheikhs provide also means more tips coming in to the Iraqi authorities and more cooperation when forces go to neighborhoods, he said. It has also had an effect on the number of attacks in the city. "We hope this cooperation spreads beyond Ramadi," he said. "Success breeds success."

Another bright spot in Anbar is in and around Al Qaim, on the Syrian border. "Last year there were pitched battles in the city," he said. "Now the tribal leaders are cooperating, and the police and army units cooperate with each other and with us."

The people of Al Qaim are giving the Iraqi government a chance to establish order, Zilmer said.

Despite these successes, the province is a huge area to cover. The addition of a Marine amphibious unit has helped tamp down some of the problems, the general said, but what he really needs are more Iraqi forces.

Many of the Marines and soldiers in the region are on their second or third tour, yet their morale is still high. "They come out here and decide they will make a difference," Zilmer said. "And they do. Every day."

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August 29, 2006

3/3 Marine's quick thinking saves lives


Saving lives is all in a day's work for our troops overseas, but Cpl. Jeff Globis' split second response to imminent danger raises the bar for ordinary every-day heroism. Sgt. Roe F. Seigle, 1st Marine Division, filed the photo above and story below:

Manning an observation point at the combat outpost, the 23-year-old infantryman saw the speeding truck break through the base’s protective barriers. Globis opened fire on the vehicle, which was loaded with hundreds of pounds of explosives, and warned others to take cover – acts which many here said saved their lives.

Globis, a team leader assigned to the Hawaii-based Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, said he knew the truck was a suicide bomber as soon as it turned a corner and attempted to drive through the outpost’s protective barriers. "I only had a few seconds to act, so I fired four shots through the windshield as soon as he crashed through the first protective barrier," said Globis, a native of Winthrop Harbor, Ill. "When the truck stopped, I warned all the Marines and soldiers to move as far away from the front of the building as possible."

Globis’ determinations were soon confirmed - the truck detonated and part of the roof of the outpost collapsed. No Marines or soldiers were killed because they had time to move away, avoiding the brunt of the blast, thanks to Globis’ warning. However, Globis, a 2002 graduate of Zion Benton High School, refuses to take credit for saving the Marines and soldiers that day because he "was just doing what any Marine would have done in that situation."

Staff Sgt. Richard Charley, 29, disagreed and said that many Marines and soldiers are still alive because of his quick thinking. "Globis saved several peoples’ lives that day," said Charley, a platoon sergeant. "He eliminated the driver of that vehicle before he could penetrate further into the compound and completely destroy the building."

Globis trains Iraqi soldiers to defend their country - and has commanded their respect and devotion.

Now he spends his days training Iraqi soldiers – who are making notable progress as they continue to move towards operating independent of his unit’s support, he said. "The soldiers are stepping up and taking charge when we are on patrol," said Globis. "They want to succeed."

"Ahmed," a soldier who was slightly injured in the blast from the suicide bomber said Globis is a great leader and motivates the soldiers to fight the insurgency. He also said that he is alive today because Globis saved his life that day. "I would have been killed if Globis did not give that warning," said Ahmed. "Marines like Globis have earned our loyalty and respect and we feel privileged to fight alongside them."

It's not the first time his quick reaction skills have helped his team - a few weeks ago, he spotted an IED and halted the Humvee in which he was riding. A few more inches and the device would have exploded underneath the vehicle.

Posted by Deb at 03:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 08, 2006

al-Zarqawi killed by U.S. Special Forces

CNN report:

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted insurgent in Iraq, is dead, according to an aide to Iraq's prime minister.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was expected to make a public announcement of the death, the details of which are unclear.

Two Pentagon officials told CNN that the government is awaiting al-Maliki's announcement in Baghdad before commenting on the report officially.

One official says the Pentagon is not sure of how the death was confirmed and that there might need to be "additional forensics" done before they can be fully confident the terrorist leader is dead.

Officials could provide no further details at this time.

This should put some serious hurt on what remains of the insurgency.

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May 11, 2006

Will work for food - 3/8 Update from the Al Anbar Province

Photo and story details by Lance Cpl. William L. Dubose II
3/8 Marines at Ar Ramadi are working for their supper via the "sandbag program." The note on the chair reads:
1 MEAL =

The program is strictly enforced and regulated by food service specialists in an effort to help aid the reconstruction and fortification of various observation sites.

From Lt. Col. Neary:


On behalf of the Marines, Sailors, and soldiers of Task Force 3/8, greetings from Western Ramadi in Al Anbar Province. It is impossible to put into words just how proud I am of these young men and how they have represented the Marine Corps, their family name and the United States. They perform their duty willingly and with unprecedented courage. Your men truly represent the best of America. Over the past month, you may have seen 3/8 on CBS, CNN, as well as in many major newspapers and websites. Everyday and night, we persevere with our mission of developing the Iraqi Security Forces (Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police) in Ar Ramadi in order to set the conditions for Iraqi Self Control and Reliance. Our goal is to turn over more battle space and responsibilities over to the ISF and we have already made significant progress in our area. Your men have been more than meeting the challenge at hand.

Many of our young men are being recognized for their valor in combat earning awards for their bravery as well as combat promotions. These heroes will tell you they are just doing their job. Challenges lay ahead and our men are prepared to meet those challenges.

The current temperature is a High: 100 and a Low: 70 at night. Please keep in your prayers, those Marines and Sailors recovering in hospitals as well as those families who have lost a warrior. You are all in our thoughts and prayers. We miss you all very much. God Bless. Fortune Favors the Strong.

Semper Fi!

LtCol Neary

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May 06, 2006

Poem for a Marine child

Deployment brings out the inner philosopher and poet in many Marines. They may be hard as nails on the outside but they have soft hearts . . . especially when a little one calls him Daddy. This poem is, as yet, untitled but is a testament to the love of a Marine for his child . . . and vice versa.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
My daddy's gone away real far.

Proud to answer his country's call,
He had to leave us early last fall.

With his cammies, boots, and ruck on his back,
he kissed us goodbye and left for Iraq.

Convoys, watches, and IED sweeps,
No time for play and no time for sleep.

Scorched in the day, froze in the night,
He endures it all and stands for the fight.

No shiny medals or special recognition,
To him all that matters is a successful mission.

He fights to keep me safe at play,
Free from the terrorists' harmful way.

For his brothers-in-arms he'd give his life,
So they could go home to their kids and wife.

Days, weeks, and months have passed.
He's set to come home to me at last.

There is one thing you can guarantee:
My daddy's a real life hero to me.

Clothed in desert brown and olive green,
My daddy's a US Recon Marine.

- M. Ramos, 1st Recon Battalion

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May 02, 2006

Sgt. Major Brad Kasal - An American Hero

On November 13, 2004, (then) 1st Sgt. Brad Kasal led his 3/1 Marines into a Fallujah firefight. Before it was over, he would receive 47 wounds and lose sixty percent of his blood supply. 40 of those wounds were from shrapnel - he shielded a wounded Marine, LCpl Nicoll from a grenade with his own body - and the other 7 were from enemy bullets. And he walked out of the fight, pistol in hand.

Photo by L. Read

Yesterday, he received the Navy Cross - this nation's second highest award for valor and bravery - in a ceremony held at Camp Pendleton. He was also promoted to Sgt. Major - his career goal.

Photo by Col. B.B. Yarborough, USMC Ret.

From Col. B.B. Yarborough, USMC Ret. (father of Yarbz from Juggernuts), who attended the ceremony:

The order of the ceremony today was the award of The Navy Cross, promotion to Sergeant Major, reenlistment, and oath of office.

The SgtMaj will head up the recruiting territory headquartered in DesMoines, Iowa, near his hometown.

A point of interest is that his father died last night, following a long illness. The father was saluted today by Maj Gen Lehnert in his comments following the award. I sat behing Kasal's brother.

In Kasal's comments, following those of the General, Kasal said he had been advised by surgeons to amputate his right let below the knee, but he was guided only by one thought, to get back to duty and complete his career. He said he would go to Iraq again, that he would go 1000 times if needed. Also said that he ran 1 1/2 miles last Saturday morning, that it wasn't pretty, but he did it. He still walks with a slight limp.

In an interview last year, Kasal stated:

"I don't believe in war. I believe in a just cause - and I believe what we are doing over there is a just cause"

And in yesterday's ceremony, he reaffirmed that belief as he reenlisted to serve his country and his Corps.

1st Sgt. Kasal's heroism under fire was chronicled by one of the other Marines in the house, Cpl Robert Mitchell:

During their movement, Mitchell's first sergeant and another one of his Marines had been hit. Unable to make it the room with Mitchell, they remained on the ground in a room slightly behind the stairs. Mitchell ran from the room he went in to the first sergeant and the other injured Marine. The first sergeant had been shot in the right leg and still conscious. He told Mitchell that he had taken a few shots in his calf. The blood around the area was evidence enough. Mitchell's other Marine had been shot in the leg as well, but the first sergeant thought the Marine might have been shot in the gut as well.

"I was getting ready to help the first sergeant out, but he told me to take care of the other Marine first," said Mitchell. "I went over to the Marine and started stripping his gear off. I was looking around for a wound. I thought for sure that I was going to see just his guts spilling out all over the place but that wasn't the case. He hadn't been shot in the gut. He did receive a shot to the left center of his back though. I thought that maybe he had taken a lung shot. He wasn't bleeding to bad."

The Marine he was tending to happened to be one of Mitchell's best friends. Seeing his injured friend hit Mitchell pretty hard. Despite his feelings, Mitchell knew he had to do something. "I had (medical) gear and went through the squad medic's course. I was pretty much prepared for whatever," said Mitchell. "I ended up just slapping a dressing on his back and throwing a tourniquet around his leg to stop the bleeding. After that, there wasn't much I could do for the first sergeant because I was out of dressings and tourniquets."

Although Mitchell didn't have enough tourniquets to use on the first sergeant, he noticed that the wounds were not bleeding too excessively, and he knew the first sergeant was a tough Marine. "I mean, it was 1st Sgt. Kasal, the guy that was the epitome of Marines," said Mitchell.

And Bing West wrote of his exploits in the book No True Glory Here's an excerpt from Chapter 27, The House From Hell:

Kasal pulled Niccol to his left into the room. He propped Niccol's shattered left leg on his stomach, trying to tie a pressure bandage as a tourniquet. His hands were sticky with blood and he kept fumbling, worrying that Niccol was going to bleed to death due to his clumsiness. He heard a thump to his right and turned his head to see a pineapple grenade laying just out reach. He rolled left on top of Niccol and bear-hugged him as the explosion went off. He felt sharp pressure in his legs and buttocks and knew he had been hit again. When his head stopped ringing, he shoved his rifle out the door so the Marines would know which room they were in. He didn't want to be hit by friendly fire and he knew they would be coming for them.

The key quote in that paragraph is "he knew they would be coming for him". Just as he'd gone after his wounded Marines. Sgt. Major Kasal is truly the epitome of a Marine and his story needs to be told, over and over again.

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April 02, 2006

Training when it's raining

It's raining in Iraq and my son had his Marines practice a low water crossing on a creek that appeared suddenly. Here's the aftershot.

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March 31, 2006

Infantry officer's perspective on Iraq

Here's an update received from an infantry Army officer - there's a marked difference between his bottom line and that reported by media outlets. It spans five months, so we'll hear about the holidays too.

March 30th, 2006

Hello All,

Sorry it has been five months since my last update, but then, we have been busy. Let me give you the bottom-line up front (BLUF), and then catch you up on things. Feel free to forward this to whomever, since we still can't seem to get the press to tell folks what is going on. This is how the fight is going from my foxhole, and it is much more than the bombings, US casualties, and rumors of civil war the press seems to be focused on.

BLUF: We are not, and have not been, on the verge of civil war. We have had an increase in killings by militia groups in the past five weeks, and that is not helping get the new government seated, but we (the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Coalition Forces) are far from losing control.

As you probably noted, Al Qaida and the other insurgent groups were not able to mount a Tet like offensive this past fall. Iraqi and US operations prevented them from organizing major attacks, and the ISF did a superb job of securing the polling sites. Iraq ratified a constitution and conducted a credible election. Although the Iraqis face some significant challenges forming the new government, the basics of democracy are present and taking root.

Saddam's trial is making progress, albeit painfully slowly. The new judge is ensuring the defendants receive due process and a fair trial, while eliminating their ability to turn the trial into a political circus. Saddam's and the others' security continue to be one of my personal headaches, so I am a big fan of keeping the trial moving.

2006 is the Year of the Police, which means our focus is to get the Iraqi police forces trained and operational. We continue to work to rebuild the Iraqi Army, which assumes responsibility for more battle space each week. It is the ability of the Iraqi Army to take the fight to the enemy that allowed us to turn off two US replacement brigades at the end of 2005. The Iraqi Army is having successes and failures, but is steadily improving. Recently they have conducted a number of truly outstanding operations, both in conjunction with us and on their own. The police are not as far along, hence our focus on them in 2006. What you don't see in the media is the tremendous courage of most of the Soldiers, Policemen, and Judges who take significant risk each day to bring stability to their country. I lost an Iraqi friend last week who was the leader of the security of the prison where we send our convicted terrorists to serve their sentences. Another equally brave corrections officer stepped up immediately to take his place.

The fight against Al Qaida is going well. They have chosen to make Iraq the battleground against the US, and this has enabled us to kill or capture significant numbers of their senior leadership, and put a dent in their funding. They believe they can prevail by killing US Soldiers, and waiting for the US public to tire of the war and casualties, and bring us home. As I talk to Soldiers around Iraq, they overwhelmingly believe in what they are doing and why they are doing it. They know they are winning, and are frustrated by what they see and hear in the news about America questioning why we are here. In my opinion, it is much better to fight these terrorists in Iraq vice in the US.

Our counterinsurgency strategy continues to focus on: offensive operations to kill or capture insurgents; train and reinforce the Iraqi Army and police forces to conduct the counterinsurgency; establish a strong democratic Iraqi government; and rebuild the infrastructure and economy. The interagency process is working fairly well in Baghdad (Washington could take a lesson), with most of my contacts being with the Departments of State and Justice.

One of our two largest challenges is to get the Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds to work together. No one party/sect has a majority in the newly elected Council of Representatives, so learning to compromise and put together alliances in the government will be key to success.

Who is selected to head the Ministries of Defense and Interior (police) is also key; we really need individuals who are secular, and are clearly not tied to any of the various militia groups. The militias are the other major challenge to success here. We will have to disarm them, weed them out of the government, and neutralize their ability to terrorize the citizens of Iraq. This will be at least as challenging as getting the major sects to work together, but not impossible.

On top of these two challenges, we have the Iranian influence to combat. Our neighbors to the east are intent on destroying this attempt at democracy, and infiltrate and support terrorists at every opportunity. The Judiciary continues to be a success story, and it remains strongly independent and resistant to executive branch influence. As a side note, we got our first death sentence in a Coalition case this week; one of the Al Qaida terrorists who participated in the beheading of Nick Berg.

I could not have been prouder than to spend my final Thanksgiving and Christmas in uniform with the outstanding young Americans who are serving here as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. Thanksgiving morning dawned clear and crisp at 45 degrees with a 20 knot wind. Although it was warm by Minnesota and Korea standards, it was chilly for the desert as we donned our body armor and loaded our HMMWVs for the convoy to Abu Ghraib.

Had a great dinner in the mess hall there with the Soldiers, and spent the afternoon checking fighting positions and guard towers. That evening I spent some talking with the joint service members of our intelligence unit, a section of which is dedicated to finding our one MIA, SGT Keith Maupin. They are out on missions each week, intent on bringing him home.

Troop morale continues to remain high. The Soldiers can see the difference they are making, whether killing bad guys, training the Iraqi forces, or improving the living conditions for Iraqis. They can no longer give beanie babies to the kids, because Al Qaida has taken to placing explosives in them, giving them to kids, blowing their arms off or killing them, and blaming the Americans.

This is a tough fight, and we are once again up against an enemy who has no moral compass. Our kids continue to excel at every mission, and are undaunted in their task. If anyone has any doubts about this generation, they can erase them. 2006 will be a decisive year. We have the opportunity to do a battle handoff to the Iraqis for the lead in the counterinsurgency fight, and begin to reduce our combat presence. Concurrently, we must continue to coach and mentor the Iraqi Government as it continues its journey toward democracy. We will need to be here for awhile, but my assessment is that this is the make or break year.

I'm betting on our Soldiers and the Iraqi people.

Colonel William Ivey, Infantry

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

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March 07, 2006

AP report from the Syrian Border

One of the most encouraging bits of news from Husaybah is that reporters are now sending reports from the town. Just a year ago, the area was considered too dangerous for anyone but the 200 1/7 Baker Company Marines who were assigned to that remote outpost. Even visiting generals went no further than Al Qaim - 12 miles and a lifetime away.

Conditions have improved. Here's a report on a typical raid that happened last week when Antonio Castaneda, reporter with RCT-7 accompanied a squad of 3/6 Lima Company Marines on a routine patrol:

Yesterday morning I woke up around 4 a.m. to begin the day by walking through the chilly, dark city of Husaybah with about two dozen Marines. The Marines had night vision goggles to help them navigate through the dirt or crudely paved roads; I just tried to follow the sound of the quiet, soft crunch of the pair of boots in front of me and not trip on anything.

The Marines were on a joint mission with dozens of Iraqi soldiers to "sweep" through a neighborhood, essentially house-to-house searches, in this city along the Syrian border. Every home in the area had been searched in November during a major offensive, leading to a sharp reduction in insurgent attacks, but U.S. commanders this time wanted the Iraqi soldiers to get the experience of planning and executing a large-scale operation.

The Iraqis were just waking up when we arrived at their base, gathering in line to pick up their breakfast of two pieces of bread, cheese, and their most prized sustenance: small cups of hot, sweet tea. I sat on a plastic lawn chair and tried to stay out of the cold outside, hoping that the sun would be up by the time we hit the streets.

Over the past year I've been on several of these operations, which have subsequently led me through hundreds of Iraqi homes as U.S. troops search through mattresses, cupboards, backyards and anything else for weapons or insurgent paraphernalia. Many times the Iraqis were ready for the troops, with all their doors and drawers unlocked and their family's AK-47 unloaded and sitting on a table. On a few occasions the families were visibly irate at the intrusion, such as one time in the small town of Bidimnah where a man complained that soldiers tracked mud on his carpet.

After about four hours of searching Thursday, I walked into a courtyard where a group of about five Marines were huddled around a young girl covered in flies. She was partially wrapped in a white flour sack and trembling, apparently from some severe neurological disorder. She was close to death. Her mother spoke with tears in her eyes while some young boys, apparently neighborhood kids, ambled around the yard and curiously watched the Marines grouped around the girl. Every few minutes the girl would let out a short gasp. "This is just so sad," said one Marine, while most stood quietly watching with somber expressions.

One Marine unsuccessfully tried to swat away the dozens of flies hovering around the girl with a towel. The flour sack she was covered in had a large "Made in the USA" tag on its front. The commanding officer, Capt. Richard Pitchford of Norfolk, Virginia, immediately called headquarters for permission to have her evacuated. First a Marine doctor would be sent to see what could be done before a helicopter would be summoned.

"If she could get 24-hour care, she'd probably live for a while. But it sounds like the parents don't want to do that," said Lt. Brent Zamzow of Gaylord, Mich., as he took the girl's vital signs and explained that even advanced treatment would probably only prolong the inevitable by days. An Iraqi interpreter said the family was anxious about having her sent away to a military base for treatment.

By this point the operation was complete, with all the nearby homes searched. Pitchford remained in the courtyard, mostly quiet with the Marines around the girl. In the end, he ordered his Marines to regularly check up on the girl on their patrols to see if any medication or supplies were needed. They closed the gates and left in a long line of armored vehicles.

Posted by Deb at 09:02 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 07, 2006

Happy New Year from 1/2 Marines

A New Year's message from LtCol. LtCol "Drew" Smith; CO of 1/2 Marines:
Best regards and "Happy New Year" to the families and friends of Battalion Landing Team First Battalion, Second Marines,

BLT 1/2 ...Since the last update BLT 1/2 continued combat operations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. The BLT is operating within the City of Hit (pronounced "heet") and surrounding areas and we are fully underway in counter=insurgency operations. The BLT, in conjunction with operations of 22nd MEU are intended to neutralize anti-Iraqi forces, support the continued development of Iraqi Security Forces, and support Iraqi reconstruction. Our daily activities and operations will be a significant contribution to an overarching focus on giving the people of Iraq a chance to live in a peaceful and democratic society that has so long been denied them.

The Environment...The BLT's area of operations is along the Euphrates River Valley and centered on the very old, perhaps best described as "ancient" City of Hit. The geographic area that surrounds the city offers some distinct contrasts. Extending laterally from the river for approximately a mile or so, one can readily encounter palm groves, agricultural facilities like rice paddies and date groves, and small towns -"villes"-in Marine vernacular, serviced by the consistent water supply offered by the Euphrates River. Beyond the river valley proper, one almost immediately encounters a blend of desert terrain comprised of small mesa-like features to lightly rolling desert hills and wadi to barren, flat desert floor. With the exception of the occasional oasis and palm grove, the desert area is abundant with dirt and sand, and the "mix" results in a silt-like powder that floats on the surface of the desert floor. When agitated by vehicles, helicopters, or natural winds, the powder can certainly take up home in nostrils, eyes and in the mechanisms of our weapons and equipment.

The City of Hit is by and large the center of the BLT's AO and has drawn our attention in these initial days of combat operations. With the City of Hit being a "focal point" if you will, the units of the BLT are arrayed in manner that supports interruption of insurgent activities and routes while maintaining mutual support with adjacent BLT and 22nd MEU units. As one might suspect, routes and activities of the insurgents are woven with that of everyday civilian life of the area to offer the necessary "cover" for preparations and actions and to facilitate the illicit activities that fund insurgent operations. It is in these areas that we will go to root out the enemy and disrupt his activities.

An insurgency historically looks to capitalize on areas/community centers plagued by a number of negative factors, not the least of which can be an unresponsive and fractioned local leadership, long-standing or developing rifts in tribal and religious affiliations, an unstable economy and slow to stalled development of infrastructure, questionable and/or defunct police forces, and finally a populous that due to the strain brought on by the noted factors makes it susceptible to the manipulation, in this case by a variety of anti-Iraqi forces. Our actions are helping the citizens of the area maintain a level of security and normality in their lives while also helping to set the conditions for increased local security, responsive local government and improved economic development - key aspects in beating back and ultimately defeating of the insurgency.

Drilling down, "patrol operations" have been the "business of the day" these first several days for each of the companies. On a continual basis, vehicle and foot-mobile patrols are out and about in the untidy streets of the city and in and around the rural areas of the river valley, all focused on seeking the enemy and disrupting his plans by our direct actions and, in many respects, merely by our presence. "Your warriors are getting after it." "We are all here," ... AAV crews, artilleryman and their howitzers, combat engineers, tankers, infantryman, "docs" and chaplains, all working together. I have watched them "gear up," I see the confidence they have in themselves, their fellow warriors and the confidence they have in their equipment. They are all impressive. It is early yet and there is hard work ahead, but I know that it will be the sense of mission accomplishment and shared dangers that will positively fuel this fine team each and every day.

Concurrently, we are working to engage the local citizenry to gain their confidence and their assistance in addressing the threats within the area. Providing some semblance of security, and in that normalcy of life for the citizens of the area is an important task. Our security operations (patrolling, etc) coupled with engaging and assisting the legitimate, local leadership and operating with and assisting the local Iraqi Army are other key aspects to achieving that end.

As you no doubt have come to understand through the media, and perhaps from a loved-one's previous tour in Iraq of Afghanistan, countering an insurgency involves demanding and at times dangerous work. Let me tell you that your Marines and Sailors are on their toes every day, executing smartly and doing their part. We've encountered the enemy; he knows full well that we are here and that we have every intention of hunting him down. No surprise when I tell you that our enemy is allusive and our mission has risks and won’t be easy, but the members of this BLT are displaying tremendous qualities within a demanding environment. I am extremely proud of our Marines and Sailors.

"Home Is Where You Hang Your Rifle" ... As the header may infer, "home" is where Marines hang their weapons up and where they try to clean up and rest from the day's operations and prepare for the next. For units of the BLT, "firm bases," - buildings in a unit's designated area of operations reinforced with a variety and in many respects robust physical security measures - "firm bases" serve as "home" for now. There are several firm bases in the BLT area and although they offer little to nothing in the form of creature comforts, they offer several key aspects of force protection, not the least of which is added security that a hardened cement structure affords against mortars and rockets, and a location that is guarded by our Marines and with the assistance of Iraqi soldiers-our fellow counterparts in this fight. It is in these small bases where your Marine or Sailor can rest, get some "hot chow," relax with fellow warriors, get cleaned up and plan and prepare for operations. My medical officers and their corpsman are also dispersed throughout the firm bases, sharing in the patrols and hardships and capable of providing 24/7 assistance to the warriors. Through the hard work of our brothers and sisters in the MSSG, these firm bases have expeditionary showers and Marines have the capability to heat tray rations, a step up from the Meal Ready to Eat (MRE). 22 MEU as a whole continues to commit every available resource to these bases to give our warriors the life support to stay healthy and ready for operations. We are in good company and we're in great shape.

Mail continues to flow in and in large quantities. Always great to see the letters and care packages...and the grins that go along with news from home. A reminder on MOTO Mail at www.motomail.us ...a great way to stay in touch.

Happy New Year ...I extend my best wishes for a safe and prosperous New Year. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. My "thanks to all" for the steadfast commitment and support for this BLT.

Semper Fidelis and best regards,
LtCol "Drew" Smith

Commanding Officer, Battalion Landing Team 1/2

Posted by Deb at 12:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving in Iraq

Last year, 1/7 Marines on patrol in Husaybah celebrated Thanksgiving huddled around a campfire, eating MREs. This picture was taken by PFC Rael, Bravo Company, 1st Platoon, 3rd Squad. This year, the Marines of 3/6 on the Syrian border have heard rumors that they might get a break from MREs today.
There's a rumor circulating among the Marines of the 2/6 that "hot chow" is coming. The fervor with which Marines here talk of the possibility of a hot meal - roasted turkey, steaming stuffing, and tart cranberry sauce - being delivered to their sandy, remote outpost in Iraq's Anbar Province from the nearest base for Thanksgiving is understandable, especially when you taste what they've been eating. There are stacks of Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs) around but most marines can't bear to even look at them. They've already spent months eating Country Captain Chicken and Vegetable Manicotti from hermetically sealed brown plastic bags. Inside: "wheat snack bread," "jalapeno cheese spread," or "pumpkin pound cake." But few of the Marines here of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment were even aware that Thanksgiving was approaching until asked by this reporter. Capt. Brendan Heatherman had just finished a long morning of raids, jumping rock walls, and racing through houses looking for insurgents. "It's in two days? Man, snuck up on me," he said, incredulous.
Here's a glimpse of life at in the most remote region of Iraq:
They run patrols on foot and sit in humvees 24 hours a day and race out on raids, following tips on insurgent movement. Back at base, they have no running water or electricity. They live in giant metal containers and sleep on wooden bunks they built themselves. Captain Carabine is considered fortunate because his camp already had one half-built rock and a cement structure when his group arrived. Now it serves as the headquarters. If the turkey and stuffing doesn't arrive, Captain Heatherman's company has already a contingency plan - a local turkey farmer. "The Iraqi [soldiers] say they'll [cook] it, and we've got some guys from down south who know how to clean it and have already volunteered their services," says 1st Sgt. William Thurber

Posted by Deb at 12:11 PM | Comments (1)

June 29, 2005

Those Magificent Betio Bastards

HN "Doc" Alfro, Kilo Company 3/2, receives the Purple Heart from General Nyland, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps at Camp Al Qaim, Iraq.

With Operation Spear wrapped up, the Betio Bastards have time to update us. Here are letters from Kilo, Lima, and Weapons companies.

Hello Family and Friends of Company K,

Operation SPEAR is complete. Unfortunately, we lost Lance Corporal Adam Crumpler due to enemy action. We will honor our fallen Marine's life by a memorial service and remembrance of his ultimate sacrifice. We are also thankful that our wounded are healing well. Once again, your Marine's and Sailor's performed with brilliance and bravery. Tasked to clear a foreign fighter stronghold, they were absolutely magnificent in their performance of their jobs. Their proficiency, heroism, and meritorious achievement were not lost upon the nation and by the world through their rescue of four captured prisoners chained and tortured by the very insurgents we fought. Although this father's day was quite different for the Dad's in the company, the concept fatherhood was evident by our killing of foreign insurgents in Iraq versus them having the ability to do harm to our homes and family in the United States . Again, while we were gone, some of your Marines and Sailors provided outstanding security of the Camp. Your love and support keeps us going and keeps us vigilant. We miss and love you!

God Bless and Semper Fi!,

Chris Ieva
Captain, USMC

P.S. Harp on your Marines and Sailors about being smart even though they have become seasoned to high intensity combat!

The Company has completed another month with the Provisional Security Battalion at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq . In June the Company has continued to provide security outside the wire. They have served as the Base Reaction Force and the 2D Marine Aircraft Wing Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP) security element, conducted mounted security patrols outside the wire, and begun conducting security patrols on roads utilized by convoys. With our current and new missions, the Marines continue to distinguish themselves as professionals.

The Company has recently participated in the repair of the base water mains destroyed by insurgents and a sweep of the local area for enemy weapons caches. In both missions, the Marines made significant contributions to Al Asad and disrupted enemy activity. Additionally, the Company has been active in sweeping the supply routes of the base for mines and IEDs. This activity ensures the uninterrupted flow of supplies to and from the base and protects the lives of our fellow service members.

Corporal Tuomala was recently meritoriously promoted to Sergeant and Private First Class Tomasetti was meritoriously promoted to Lance Corporal. Although these two Marines represented the Company for meritorious promotion, I am blessed to lead 173 of the finest Marines. As we continue in this deployment, the achievements of our Marines will continue to make us proud and set the example for other Companies to follow.

The latest news is that we may be rejoining 3d Battalion, 2d Marines in Al Qaim in July. The Marines are excited at the prospect of finishing the deployment with 3/2. What this means for mail and contact home should become clear in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we will continue to pass information through the Key Volunteer network and our Marines.

Thank you for supporting our Marines,

Captain Sean Hankard

Hello again, WARPIG family and friends. Another month is officially a 'round down range' with each busy day bringing us closer to our eventual return. Despite some homesickness, we continue to move forward with the same discipline and professionalism that has characterized our behavior the entire deployment.

We have recently participated in a very successful operation, similar in nature to MATADOR, code named SPEAR. The purpose of this operation was to neutralize foreign insurgent control in our Area of Operation and the outcome, due to the efforts of your Marines and Sailors, exceeded expectations. SPEAR was covered by multiple media agencies, most thoroughly by a crew from CNN, so articles and pictures are available on the Internet and cable news networks. As usual, I will let your Marines fill you in on the details now that we have returned and the phone lines have opened.

Additionally, this month I have had the privilege of promoting the following WARPIGS:

To Sergeant:

M.B. Story

To Corporal:

K.O. Hedgepeth (Combat Meritorious)
P.J. Culver
J.A. Campbell

To Lance Corporal:

A.O. Lupson (Meritorious)
P.M. Torroco (Meritorious)
M.S. Chadha
B.T. Holliday
J.A. Kania

As always, I am honored to serve with your Marines and Sailors.

Semper Fidelis,

F.C. Phillips

Posted by Deb at 08:26 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 20, 2005

Father's Day wishes from the RCT-2 Marines

Col. Davis, commander of Regimental Combat Team 2 in Iraq sent along these Father's Day wishes:

All across the world, Marines, Sailors and their families will be honoring their dads with special meals, gifts, and of course the traditional tie or two. Fatherhood is often like being a Marine, it's an adventure that takes you places you never knew existed. May this Father's Day be filled with the lasting joys that family and friends can bring, while never forgetting the loss of our fallen warriors, whose absence at this year's Father's Day celebrations will be felt.

On behalf of the Marines and Sailors of Regimental Combat Team-2, I'd like to take the time to wish all Fathers who read this website a very safe and happy Father's Day. Thank you for your sacrifices and support to our team.

Happy Father's Day
Semper Fidelis and Keep Moving

Posted by Deb at 10:36 AM

May 15, 2005

E-mail from the Syrian border

Proud Marine Mom Tammie has heard from her son who was in the battle at the border. Some of the identifying information has been removed, but here's a very relieved mom's response:

Matt called today. After practically screaming with joy and holding back from bursting into tears of relief and joy, him laughing at this point of course ... his Dad and I (one on each phone) calmed down and shut up and let him talk.

He said "Mama I knew you were going to be worried when I didn't call back, then the reporters came and I told (somebody) Mama's really going to be worried now and then Oliver North and the news crew showed up and I told (somebody) Mama's going to lose it now." :) He asked if we saw the coverage on Fox News and said he is in some of it. Truth be told ... all we cared about was hearing his voice and knowing he is safe now.

Matt is fine ... a bit banged up ... more on that later. He sounds like Matt, good spirits, in one piece, exhausted. As he related various parts of the following his voice broke at times so he is carrying the weight of all he's seen and experienced. We discussed taking care of himself now that the adrenaline is wearing off.
He had only 5 minutes to talk. Had waited in line 90 minutes to call and said he'd try and call again maybe tomorrow. Loves us, said to let everybody know he's okay so I've called some of you ... the rest of you pass the word.

I told him I know how he hates the whole hero thing (for those of you who don't know ... Matt always had a thing about people being called heroes ... he always said they were just doing their jobs or in a situation doing what they had to do.

Thank you to everyone from the bottom of our hearts for the prayers and support. Do not stop because we've still got months to go. We have no delusions that the terrorists have tucked their tails and disappeared permanently. But for now, today and maybe this weekend, Carl and I are going to breathe .... as Matt said "Momma you and Dad go out to dinner and have a drink".


Like it or not, they're heroes. Every one of them. Thanks for sharing, Tammie.

Posted by Deb at 10:43 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 21, 2005

Thunder from 3/2 Marines on the Syrian border

CO for 3/2 Marines, LtCol Mundy sends an update from Al Qaim:

Friends and families, I'm sending this update because your Marines and Sailors have had a lot of activity here recently. First, let me assure you that from the recent activity, we've had very few injuries, and most of those we've had have been minor. I credit our success and minimal injury rate to the training before we left home, our training since we've been here, the supervision provided by the great small unit leaders I have, and your prayers. Please keep doing your part, while I keep the battalion task force doing ours!

I could not be prouder of all the Betio Bastards of this fine unit, and that includes everyone attached who is now, and forever will be, a Bastard along side their brothers in arms from 3/2. The news may be carrying a story about the attacks on Camp Gannon several days ago. I cannot give you all the details, but you should know that the terrorists threw everything they had at your 3/2 Marines and Sailors at Camp Gannon , including three of their most devestating weapons, the suicide vehicle IED. They damaged the exterior of the camp's defenses, but did not break through, and the Marines performed exceptionally well under attack; many of them heroically. The perimeter held, and many terrorists died trying to continue their attack on the camp. For several days, they have tried to test our Marines on posts, and met similar fates. I visited the men immediately after the main attack, and as always, morale is high. Camp Gannon remains secure and the men are continuing their mission today the same as they did prior to the attack. The city around them remains dangerous, but has calmed a bit now.

While the action around Camp Gannon has been the most spectacular so far, you should know that every man in the Task Force has been busy all around our area of operations. For the past week, I've had Weapons, Kilo, and H&S working hard in Camp Al Qaim and the surrounding areas, and our actions have kept the enemy off balance. Everyone is professional, dedicated to the tasks at hand, and performing at a level I knew they were capable of. I was in Al Asad with SgtMaj Mennig five days ago, and we had the opportunity to visit with Capt Hankard, Lt. Wingate, and many of the Lima Company Marines and Sailors. They are doing a fantastic job with their security missions in and around Al Asad, and I continue to hear their praises sung by the men they work for. All of your men from 3/2 have met my challenge to "quell the storms" thus far in western Iraq , and they are certainly "riding the thunder!"

As you can tell, everyone in the Task Force is involved in sharing the dangers here, and everyone is a vital member of the team. I can't accomplish my mission without the hard work of all your husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers. I am exceptionally proud of the job they are doing here, and you should be as well.

The mail continues to pour in, and I think we've solved any minor problems with Lima Company getting theirs directly. Thanks to all of you for your immense support. I would also like to thank the numerous churches and support groups who have “adopted? men in 3/2 for letters and care packages, and others who just send packages in support of the entire Task Force. The encouragement we get from knowing we have the support of our families, but also so many of the American people, is tremendous.

Keep checking the Marine Corps website, at www.usmc.mil , for more stories about 3/2. There should also be one coming out soon in the Chicago Tribune, because we recently had a reporter here from that paper. We currently have a Washington Post and USA Today reporter in the area, primarily covering the Gannon attack, so with luck you'll see a quote from your son, brother, father or husband in an article or their smiling face on TV soon.

In operations following the attack on Camp Gannon , we did suffer a terrible casualty, with one of our snipers, Cpl Eddie Ryan, being very seriously wounded. My prayers are with him and his family at this time, because his condition is very grave. All the members of 3/2 grieve our fallen comrade.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Ride the Thunder!

Posted by Deb at 07:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

Heroes of 3/2 hold the fort

Camp Gannon in Husaybah, Iraq is arguably one of the most volatile spots in the sandbox. And last week, the insurgents in that area hit Camp Gannon with everything they had. A dump truck. A fire engine. A third vehicle, all packed with explosives. They hit the front gate of this isolated post almost simultaneously . . . and three determined India Company Marines kept them from breaching camp security. It's an amazing tale of bravery and courage under fire for Marines, each just 21 years old. Here's a link to the story of the Marines who battled the insurgents. The bravery of LCpl Butler, Pfc. Charles Young, and Cpl. Anthony Fink saved the lives of a number of other Marines inside Camp Gannon. Here's a snippet from the longer story:

The base commander at Camp Gannon, a former Iraqi customs and immigration post at the edge of one of its most dangerous cities, credits Butler with preventing massive deaths here.

"Butler -- that day, that Marine -- that's the critical error the insurgents made," Capt. Frank Diorio says. "They thought they could keep the Marines' heads down. But he gets back up."

Butler, 21 and an Altoona, Pa., native, fired through the windshield of the first suicide bomber as he rammed a white dump truck through a barrier of abandoned vehicles the Marines had improvised. Barreling toward the camp's wall, the truck veered off at the last moment under volleys of Butler's gunfire."I shot 20 or 30 rounds before he detonated," he says.

Knocked down by that blast, with bricks and sandbags collapsing on top of him, Butler struggled to his feet only to hear a large diesel engine roar amid the clatter of gunfire. It was a red fire engine, carrying a second suicide bomber and passenger. Butler says both were wearing black turbans and robes, often worn by religious martyrs.

Amid the chaos of that first bomb blast, supported by gunfire from an estimated 30 dismounted insurgents, the fire engine passed largely undetected on a small road that leads from town directly past the camp wall, according a Marine report.

"I couldn't see him at first because of the smoke. It was extremely thick from the first explosion," Butler says. When the fire engine cleared the smoke, it was much closer than the dump truck had been.

As the driver accelerated past the "Welcome to Iraq" sign inside the camp's perimeter, Butler says he fired 100 rounds into the vehicle. The Marines later discovered the vehicle was equipped with 3-inch, blast-proof glass and the passengers were wearing Kevlar vests under their robes.

Pfc. Charles Young, 21, also of Altoona, Pa., hit the fire engine with a grenade launcher, slowing its progress and giving Butler time to recover. Without breaching the camp wall, the driver detonated the fire engine, sending debris flying up to 400 yards and knocking Marines from their bunks several hundred yards away. Butler, less than 50 yards away, again was knocked down by the blast, which partially destroyed the tower in which he was perched. After he crawled for cover, a third suicide bomber detonated outside the camp. That blast caused no damage or injuries. Sporadic fighting continued for several hours.

Meanwhile, Cpl. Anthony Fink of Columbus, Ohio, 21, fired a grenade launcher that the Marine unit says killed 11 insurgents. The Marines' "React Squad" swiftly deployed against the remaining insurgents.

"We were able to get the momentum back," Diorio says. He also says that Husaybah townspeople later reported 21 insurgents dead and 15 wounded. No Marines were seriously hurt.

And here's the message sent to 3/2 India Company families by the company CO:

Hello to all those supporting and praying for our India Company family. They make a difference, I assure you today more than ever. You have all probably heard about the attack on Camp Gannon . Once again the good Lord looked upon us, and the Marines executed flawlessly, which were the reasons for the enemy paying dearly for their decisions. The Marines are fine. I am so unbelievably proud to be here with them. Motivation and dedication to each other, our families, and our mission couldn't be higher.

As a unit, as a company, we continue to grow each day, understanding and appreciating each individual effort to protect, serve, and strengthen the company as a whole. The Marines are at times tired yet tireless in their duties, enduring hardships yet hardened against weak mindedness, and exposed to tough conditions but have toughened in mind, body, and soul.

I'd thank all of you for your continued prayers, letters and packages of support from home. Please know how much of a positive impact they all have on us here.

I'd like to finish this months letter with a special acknowledgement to two people who have given so much, and at times, almost all they have had in time, concern, energy, and commitment to the Marines of India Company. In one month's time Gunnery Sergeant Brian Hogancamp and his wife Teresa will be leaving 3/2 for their next duty station. As our company's Key Volunteer coordinator, Teresa has worked tirelessly to care for and assist the wives and families, and the Marines themselves, in any way that we needed. She has been a blessing to us all and will be greatly missed. Gunny Hogancamp leaves after almost 4 years in the Battalion. Although he will be leaving, he leaves behind most of him with us. His sweat and blood are literally and figuratively in all things India . His devotion to duty and selflessness to his Marines is the example for us all to follow. All that we have accomplished now and in the future has a foundation built upon the Gunny Hogancamp's hard work. Thank you both. Our hope for you is to someday truly know the impact you have had on all of us. Fair winds, and following seas . . .

From Husaybah,
Captain Frank Diorio

Posted by Deb at 02:37 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

April 19, 2005

Key Volunteers - a "force multiplier"

Major General Natonski, Commanding General for 1st Marine Division, recently recognized the Key Volunteers who keep the home front running smoothly while their spouses (and in some cases, their sons or daughters) are deployed. These are amazing men and women who are suddenly faced with the absence of half the family leadership, but who also find the time to reach out to other families. The Marine family is a close one. It's nice to see the Key Volunteers recognized.

The week of 17-23 April 2005 is designated National Volunteer Appreciation week. During this time, our nation expresses its gratitude to those remarkable individuals who unselfishly volunteer their time, talent, and energy for the benefit of our communities and country.

I want to extend my sincerest appreciation to the Key Volunteers, for all of the tremendous work and service you provide to our Marines, Sailors, and their families of the 1st Marine Division. I applaud your efforts to ensure the well being of our families during this very dynamic time. Much of the success we have enjoyed is a direct reflection of your limitless efforts. Your mission is vital and you carry it out with professionalism and compassion.

The Key Volunteer Network is a “force multiplier? that allows the Marines and Sailors of the 1st Marine Division to focus on accomplishing our mission. By volunteering your precious free time, you ensure that our families have the resources, support, and necessary care while our loved ones are deployed.

It is only fitting that the nation takes this time to show its appreciation for your contribution. Again, let me add my sincere thanks for your efforts and please know that your sacrifices have not gone unnoticed. I ask for your continued faith, courage, and your support to our Marines, Sailors and their families. You have proven to be a valued asset to the 1st Marine Division. Thank you and God Bless.

Thanks to Carrie for passing along Major General Natonski's good wishes.

Posted by Deb at 08:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

"I've had a good time in Iraq" . . . 2/24 Marines come home

Marine Corps families are gathering in Wisconsin to welcome home the Mad Ghosts of 2/24. Proud Marine Mom Linda Kelly is en route, camera in hand, to help us share their happiness. I didn't get the last update from LtCol Smith posted due to getting sidetracked with my own son's return home, but once again, the bards of 2/24 have an eloquent way with words. Warriors are writers and these guys prove it over and over again.

Here is Major David Durham's last post from the sandbox:

This is my last e-mail from Forward Operating Base Saint Michael - in Mahmudiyah Iraq.

It's been a long haul. Be patient with me - I want to tell you a few things - emotions are running high right now - so forgive me if I'm a little sappy. Over a million Americans have passed through Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 (many are on their second or third trip - they get counted twice) - so I know we are only a small part of this effort - it's a characteristic of any military unit to feel like you are the center of the universe - we're not of course, but as we come home - a lot of reflection is going on.

There have been some very painful moments and difficult times for us to get through - I've written to you about those times. Things happened here that I would do anything to change - 12 lives lost that I wish I could bring back - of those, 4 Marines from Company G that followed me here - killed - 1 Marine who worked for me in my capacity on the staff - killed - I would give anything to bring them back - but I can't. They will never be forgotten.

The separation from my family has been incredibly difficult. They have probably had a more difficult time than I have - the not knowing.

All very hard - very dirty business.

Having acknowledged the difficulties and the sadness I want to tell you something. I'VE HAD A GOOD TIME IN IRAQ - Most of what we experienced I would not change or trade or give up. We came to accomplish a mission and we accomplished it. We have lived - together. We have laughed - together. At times we have worked 18-22 hour days - together. We have almost nightly been woken from our sleep by the sound of our cannons. We have watched from the roof tops as our illumination rounds lit up the night. We have sheltered together behind concrete and sandbags while mortars fell around us. We have suffered through extreme heat and bitter cold - together. We
have mourned - together. We have fought and triumphed - together. From the Lance Corporal on patrol to the Battalion Commander - from the clerk in Supply to the guard who kept the night watch - we have embodied the warrior spirit. We are not the victims of this war. We brought American muscle. We came to kill Saddam's thugs and Osama's terrorist. We came to protect the first spark of freedom that is already sweeping a flame across the Middle East. We brought hope to the oppressed. We brought the promise of freedom and backed it up with our lives. And we brought imprisonment or death to those who stood in the way. Every day that we were here we relentlessly brought torment, death, and hell to a wicked enemy. We did not get all of them - but we captured, killed, or displaced 2 to 3 or our enemy for every Marine in 2/24. We did things you can't do at home: built friendships in a combat zone, strategize, planned, fought, outsmarted our enemy, compromised our health, bet our future, and risked our lives. I tell you honestly - we had a good time doing it.

Mothers, wives, daughters - welcome your Marine home - baby him - mother him - but greet him as the victorious Warrior that he is. Be proud of what he accomplished. Be tolerant of his stories. We have put every Marine through a class as he comes out of the field - getting them to open up to each other - preparing him for what he will experience when he gets home. He's been given advice on how to make his homecoming an easier process. It wasn't too long ago in the history of our country that our soldiers and Marines had weeks on a ship to unwind, we only have a few days. We all have a lot of transitioning to do - softening maybe - adjusting back to a more
civilized existence. We will make every effort to do that - and get back to our normal lives - we're ready to move on. Be patient with us. Again - these Marines are not victims to be pitied but warriors who have fought a good fight.

Finally - I want to say thank you for everything you have done for me, my Marines, and my family. Packages, letters, e-mails, donations to our fallen warrior's families, everything - I have been overwhelmed with your steadfast kindness - I will go to my grave in awe of you and the American people. I believe the outpouring of support must come from a determination in the American consciousness not to repeat the treatment our Vietnam Veterans received. Your support has given us a firm foundation to stand on - to fight from. Your support for us has been essential in defeating our enemy. Your support has ensured we come home mentally healthy - knowing we have the full faith and confidence of the people who sent us. I came to
Iraq an American Exceptionalist - I leave here even more in love with my countrymen - and my home - more convinced that America is "the last best hope for mankind." I'll spend the rest of my life thanking you.

There's not a Marine in 2/24 who does not want to come home. We have a bit of a journey ahead of us - but expect us to be in California the first week of April. After the doctors and psychologist have poked and prodded us and certified we're not sick or crazy - we will fly home in the second week of April - probably.

I'm very anxious to come home - to see each of you - and to thank you in person.

To steal a line - and paraphrase a famous quote:

And then to Kuwait; and to America then: Where ne'er from Iraq arrived more happy men.....

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Stay the Course - Semper Fidelis - see you in April.

And here is the final missive from LtCol Mark Smith:

I started these periodic updates on a whim. When I wrote the first update I didn't realize the gravity of the words. Before I started this final update from Iraq, I sat down and read a couple of the previous updates and realized that our journey here in Iraq is not only coming to an end but that we have been part of a remarkable point in history. Time has literally flown by and you feel like there is so much left to be done. But I leave Iraq with my head held high and very honored to be called a Marine and to have served with some of the finest men this earth has ever seen. To be part of an historical election, to fight an insurgency, to see people affected in such a moving way, to witness some of the most horrible sights one could ever imagine, to learn many great lessons, to be protected by God's Hand - these are just some of the amazing things that I have been fortunate to be a part of. Many lives have been changed because of our time in Iraq.

The insurgency in South Baghdad/North Babil is suppressed. It is suppressed because of the lives of 12 Marines who gave everything to see justice and liberty come to Iraq. Their blood was spilt for Iraqis they never met, for their brother Marines and for the safety and protection of all Americans. It is suppressed because the other 1,170 Marines of this battalion have shed their blood, sweat and tears for freedom to come to the citizens of Iraq. January 30, 2005 will be a day that I will never forget and a day that I will talk about until I leave this earth. To see thousands of Iraqis ignore the terrorists threats and walk miles to the polling stations all while under the threat of a crazed suicide bomber or while actual mortars were falling out of the sky was truly a sight that my words cannot come close to illustrating. Iraqi security forces are taking responsibility for their areas, the Iraqi people are taking responsibility for the civil government, they are starting to provide for the basic necessities and services, shops and market places continue to open, and ad hoc gas station entrepreneurs are popping up along the main roads - it is democracy at its finest.

In a couple of days the battalion will continue on to a staging base near Baghdad for an eventual flight to Kuwait. Once in Kuwait we will then wait for a day or two for our flight back to the USA! We'll be in CA for several days to turn in our gear, have a Battalion Memorial service to remember our fallen heroes then we'll be able to return to our families. What a glorious day that will be! We still have a dangerous road ahead and until we are out of the country we must remain ever vigilant. I sit here and write this last update as waves of helicopters lift my fellow Marines out of our forward operating base in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. This has been our 'home' for the past 7 months. We've definitely grown attached to this area and it will be hard to say goodbye to the good citizens of North Babil and the Iraqi soldiers who have stood next to us during this time and shed their blood as well. They have lost many and have born the brunt of the casualties.

I want to thank every one of you who has sent me an email of
encouragement. I want to especially thank those who have been faithful in prayer for both me and the magnificent Marines of this Battalion. Also, we were very appreciative of the wonderful boxes of goodies and letters. They definitely came at just the right times and we were never in want for anything! The comfort that I felt after I read a letter from someone back home was indescribable. I pray that I get the opportunity to shake the hand of everyone that this email goes out to and tell you personally how much I appreciate your support and prayers.

My email address will be good for only a couple more days. I will forward an updated address when I return to the states. Thank you for letting me share my opinions, stories and feelings throughout my time here. I trust you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them down.

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February 18, 2005

LCpl Wichlacz: Fair Winds and Following Seas

LtCol Mark Smith sends this beautiful tribute to fallen Marine LCpl Wichlacz who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

Thank your for your graces and patience in allowing me to be a couple of days late with this week's update. The delay was predicated on the fact that the Mad Ghosts conducted two massive Battalion level operations in the Mayhem AO this week, in order to ensure the continued dismantling and destruction of the insurgent/terrorist networks that once thrived in the Mayhem AO, and now seek their survival. As well, we have been hosting and touring with the unit assigned to replace the Mad Ghosts in the Mayhem AO, and I know for all of you that is very good news. I shall address homecoming in a follow-on update to be published today, but right now there are issues of grave importance that I must communicate to you in keeping with my promise of informing the families of all the Mad Ghosts activity, fairly and honestly.

With that said, it is again my unfortunate duty and with gut wrenching sadness that I report to you the death of Lance Corporal Travis M. Wichlacz, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, USMC. LCpl Wichlacz was killed on 05 Feb 05 when an improvised explosive device was detonated immediately adjacent to the up-armor HMMWV he was riding in. LCpl Wichlacz was part of a force conducting a raid against a suspected terrorist location when the IED was initiated. He sustained fatal injuries as a result of the explosion. He was killed instantly and felt no pain. He was secured by his brother Marines in the patrol, air med-evaced back to FOB St. Michael, and then with the utmost of dignity was prepared for his final journey home, which began approximately 12 hours after his death.

Now, when LCpl Wichlacz arrived at FOB St. Michael, I went to our Shock Trauma Building to greet him. The Medical Section, our fabulous Navy Surgeons and Corpsman from the US Navy, conducted their unfortunate task of documentation and identification. This is not enjoyable duty, but the professionalism and reverence with which these amazing Sailors conduct this task touches your heart and your soul. They may be Sailors, but my US Navy Staff are Mad Ghosts, part and parcel of this Mad Ghost Team, and will forever have both my undying respect and my gratitude, for they give everything they have (and then some) to tend to the wounds of my Marines, both living and dead. Following the medical responsibilities, the Navy Chaplain Lt. Manilla gathered us all around the peaceful body of LCpl Wichlacz and said both a blessing and a prayer. I then held his hand and wished him Fair Winds and Following Seas for his final journey home. And, I told him JOB WELL DONE! For he had given all that others would live, and live abundantly, in freedom and with the ability to seek their own journey. For this, I know he will be rewarded in Heaven.

Then, you leave the building. This is the moment that the Devil has his day. For at this point, I was filled with anger, hate and rage! The mind races with thoughts of vengeance. The body wants to lash out in violence in pay back for what has been done. And, you then look around at all the tools of violence and destruction at your immediate disposal and realize it would not be a hard thing to do!!! But, as it should be with the Devil, he gets but that fleeting moment of control, because the rage is replaced with respect. The respect of a fallen hero who calls to you to remember who and what you are: A UNITED STATES MARINE. The hero himself seems to speak to you from beyond the land of the living and reminds you that we are the ones that do good, and destroy only evil. He tells you that we came to free the oppressed and set the conditions for long-term stability in a region that has never known it, and by doing so will ensure the freedom and safety of our beloved back home. No, it is but a very fleeting moment that the Devil gets, it is a LIFETIME of remembrance, respect and honor that the hero earns. That we will never dishonor our fallen, that we will stay our course no matter how difficult, that WE WILL ACHIEVE VICTORY is the only outcome there can be! And, with YOUR Marines, YOUR Mad Ghosts, that is what it shall be. VICTORY with honor. VICTORY that delivers violence ONLY to the cowardly enemy, and compassion, respect and admiration for the people of Iraq, who we free and protect, and who have suffered unspeakably for far too long.

When this moment of illumination comes, from which all follow on actions are guided, I will tell you, it comes with intense grief. But that is O.K. That grief only speaks to the righteousness of the cause and the realization of the heavy price freedom requires. LCpl Wichlacz paid it, we now have a lifetime to earn it.

I am not a fan of Hollywood for its politics. I have never really been able to grasp, in my simple Hoosier mind, why people who make a grotesque amount of money by pretending to be something, honestly and earnestly believe that we care what they have to say about politics. No, that one has always escaped me. I mean, playing pretend is what my angelic daughters do, and although I love them more than I love my next breath, and would lay down my life for them, I have come to the conclusion I do not want Brittani and Nichole establishing National Policy and the use of force to achieve it...at least not while they are 8 and 6! So, I kind of feel the same way about Actors. But, as an art form, as a medium designed to stimulate the mind and touch the soul, well, on that count, sometimes Hollywood hits it out of the park. One such instance was the movie Saving Private Ryan. For if you would, my wonderful families of 2/24, I would like to ask you in light of LCpl Wichlacz passing, and in honor of all 11 of our fallen heroes, to reflect with me. Reflect on the final scene in Saving Private Ryan. The scene where Ryan is old, gray, round and soft in the middle, and he is with his wife and fully-grown children. They are visiting Arlington National Cemetery. Ryan is at the grave of his Company Commander and reflecting on the events of a battlefield over 50 years past.

He is reflecting on the shared violence, the shared hardship and the death of his comrades. As he is reflecting, he is sobbing. Sobbing the tears of a pain that knows no relief, knows no easing in its passage of time. And then, he says to his wife, words to the effect of, "tell me I am a good man. Tell me I have been a good man." Many is the time, 11 to be exact, that all I wanted in this whole world was to feel the soft hand of my beautiful and loving wife on the back of my sobbing head and telling me I am a good man, that I have done right by my Marines and my country. Because, you see, that is what we owe LCpl Wichlacz, our 11 and all who have given their lives in this and all previous Wars. We owe them to live good lives. Good lives in the sense that we always think first and foremost of the cost of freedom! That we remember a life lived free, is a life lived without hardship, and most of the time in frivolity and miniscule tasks. But the majesty of it, is that we have the time and space to be engaged in the frivolous and miniscule. That we grocery shop, go to movies, go to ball games, eat out, eat in, barbeque, drink beer or not drink beer, attend the soccer games, watch our kids flip monkily through gymnastics, go to Disneyworld...we do all these without nary a thought, because a lineage of Warriors since 1775 have given us that freedom. That we never forget that, that we always pay honor to that is OUR CHARGE. Please ladies, understand, no preaching of morality here. I am not defining living a good life by any means other than NEVER forgetting what the price of our American lives really is. Our freedom, our ability to do the things we do as Americans, which we Mad Ghosts miss so dearly and will never take for granted, has been paid for with the blood of YOUNG Americans in battle. That the National Anthem ALWAYS be sung with that in mind, that the pledge of allegiance always be said with pride, conviction and a commitment to defend it, that you respect the flag when you see it, these are the requirements of a "good life" for an American. Never forget these MEN! Never forget these Warriors! And, in our case in particular, as the families and Marines that are 2/24, NEVER FORGET THESE MAD GHOSTS! For the reasons for which I would rightfully earn eternal damnation are many and varied, but that I ever dishonor these wonderful heroes, well, I am confident that will not be one of them!

So in your reflection, please join me in a final farewell to LCpl Travis M. Wichlacz: good night sweet and gentle Warrior. You have touched us all. We have been deeply and profoundly saddened by your death, but we have been even more enlightened and touched by YOUR LIFE. Rest in the embrace of angels, Travis, rest in the embrace of angels! WE LOVE YOU.

God Bless the Magnificent Marines and Families of 2/24.

Posted by Deb at 10:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 05, 2005

". . . returning home with our heads held high and our arms wide open"

The 24th MEU is coming home - here is Col Johnson's final message to the families and friends of the Marines he commands:

Dear Families and Friends,

We are at last coming to the end of our mission here in Iraq. While we are looking forward with great anticipation and excitement to reuniting with our loved ones, we are departing with mixed emotions. Our indescribable joy will be tempered by thoughts of our fellow Marines and comrades who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We will never forget them. Their names and faces will be etched in our memories forever. Even when we are old and gray, they will remain young and at the dawn of their lives.

We have learned much about ourselves since we've been gone, and for that we will be better men and women. The experiences here in Iraq have taught us that we must not take life for granted, that we must cherish every moment of every day. We have also learned that our country has much to offer, that with great power and abundance comes great responsibility.

I cannot thank you enough for the tremendous lift you've given us these past eight months. We have ridden that wave of support through exhaustingly endless days and nights, and it will carry us home. I want you to know that your thoughts, prayers, letters and packages were what we needed most when we were lonely and tired. They were indispensable in the accomplishment of our mission. Each and every one of us feels that we have made a significant contribution to the rebirth of Iraq. We are enormously proud of our efforts and grateful for you who made them possible.

While we mourn and honor those we lost, we will also bear in mind those we leave behind. Please remember in your thoughts and prayers the brave men and women who will fight and toil on, trying to bring peace and democracy to a land that for too long has known little of either.

We are returning home with our heads held high and our arms wide open. We are ready to turn our full attention back to those who mean the most to us. We are eager to share in the reward for our long and difficult separation. And we are more appreciative than ever of our many blessings, foremost among them you.

Semper Fidelis,
Colonel, U.S. Marines

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11th MEU after-election update

The 11th MEU reports from an Najaf:

Success! After much preparation and planning, elections in Najaf and Karbala went off without a hitch and with a festive air. As expected, the day was violence free in both Shi'a holy cities as Iraqis eagerly turned out in droves to vote. Iraqi police, army soldiers and border police provided security around polling sites and checkpoints throughout the urban centers, with 11th MEU Marine forces never having to leave their bases in support. Iraqi security forces had everything under control, and didn't need our assistance.

At 7 a.m. the polling sites opened, and Iraqis arrived dressed in their best clothes. They were ecstatic and all smiles, congratulating each other on the vote, and holding their purple index finger up in the air as prideful evidence that they had voted. Since driving was forbidden across the country, the majority of voters walked to the polling sites, while some rode in donkey carts. The elderly were transported in wheelbarrows or wooden carts, while other Iraqis led the blind to the sites. Whole families entered the polls so the children could watch their father, as well as their mother, vote. The polls closed at 5 p.m.

The Iraqi security forces, trained by 11th MEU Marines, did an outstanding job and proved that they could handle the situation on their own. Their performance, in addition to the high voter turnout and air of festivity in the two Shi'a cities, was heartening to all. Ultimately, the successful elections have validated all the hard work and sacrifice that has been made here. 11th MEU Marines and Sailors, and their family and friends, have much to be proud about.

It is remarkable that Jan. 30 marks the first free elections in Iraq in more than 50 years. And quite possibly, today's elections may result in the first time in 80 years where the Shi'a people will have a say in their governance equal to that of their majority status in Iraq. These definitely are exciting times.

Posted by Deb at 12:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 01, 2005

Look! I'm an Action Hero!

An Islamic Jihad website posted a picture, claiming to have abducted a US soldier. Here's the ABC news story:

Iraqi militants claimed in a Web statement Tuesday to have taken an American soldier hostage and threatened to behead him in 72 hours unless the Americans release Iraqi prisoners. The U.S. military said it was investigating, but the claim's authenticity could not be immediately confirmed.

The posting, on a Web site that frequently carried militants' statements, included a photo of a man purported to be an American soldier, wearing desert fatigues and seated on a concrete floor with his hands tied behind his back.

A gun barrel was pointed at his head, and behind him on the wall is a black banner emblazoned with the Islamic profession of faith, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet."

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Marine Sgt. Salju K. Thomas, said he had no information on the claim but "we are currently looking into it."

So far, no soldiers are missing and the picture bears a strong resemblance to "Cody", an action figure produced by Dragon Models USA for sale at U.S. bases in Kuwait.

AP Photo

I'm going to feel really bad if this turns out to be legit, but I sincerely doubt that the terrorists would get more than a name, rank, and UPC number out of this guy . . . and that only from reading the box he arrived in. Sheesh.

Posted by Deb at 09:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 31, 2005

A legacy of a free and democratic Iraq

Carrie shares this message, sent to friends and familes of the 1st Marine Division from the Commanding General.

On 30 January 2005, the 1st Marine Division assisted the Independent Electoral Commission-Iraq (IECI), the Interim Iraqi Government, and Iraqi Security Forces in making the necessary preparations so that all citizens of the Al Anbar province were afforded the opportunity to vote in a safe and secure manner. We saw mixed voter turnout across the province. The election could not have been accomplished without the hard work and dedication of every member of the Division. I cannot begin to describe how immensely proud I am of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines of the Division. Once again your warriors accomplished what many skeptics said would be impossible and turned it into a resounding success. The number of citizens who actually turned out to vote is inconsequential. What does matter is those who wanted to vote could, and those who chose not to vote were exercising their free and democratic choice not to.

Together with the Iraqi Security Forces and the IECI, the Division assisted in the establishment, security, and retrograde of 30 polling sites throughout the province. Our operations kept the enemy from affecting the security at each of these sites. Our mission was not without sacrifice. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those coalition and Iraqi forces who gave their lives on this historic day. A free and democratic Iraq will be their legacy.

Although the election is behind us, our operational tempo remains high. We will soon begin the relief in place with the 2d Marine Division and begin our redeployment back to home station. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Although elements of the Division will return home soon, we will to continue to have units in Iraq with many more important tasks to accomplish.

May God bless the 1st Marine Division and its friends and families.


Posted by Deb at 09:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 07, 2005

Family Values

Duty and honor.

LA Times photo

39 years after he left for Viet Nam, Kendall Phelps is returning to the front. This time, he'll serve with his 34 year old son, Major Chris Phelps.

"I'm a father and a Marine. I can't separate the two," said Phelps, 57, a clarinet player who runs the music program for Silver Lake's schools. "I need to be there with Chris." On Friday, Kendall Phelps will get his wish.

Father and son have been assigned to the same unit. At the end of this week, they will leave for Camp Lejeune, N.C., to meet up and train with the 5th Civil Affairs Group. They are scheduled to arrive in Iraq in March for a seven-month tour of duty in the Al Anbar province west of Baghdad, where snipers and suicide bombers have become routine.

Godspeed, father and son.

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January 05, 2005

He's given it for you

Marines from 2nd MARDIV's Small Craft Company said goodbye to fallen hero, LCpl Brian Parello in a memorial service held on the shores of Lake Habbaniyah in the Al Anbar province of Iraq on Jan. 4, 2005. He was killed in action on New Year's Day while conducting operations against anti-Iraqi forces in Iraq's Al Anbar Province.

Photo by Sgt. Luis R. Agostini

LCpl Parello served as a small unit riverine craft coxswain and took part in a number of riverine security patrols while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and also earned the Combat Action Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and the National Defense Service Medal.

Photo by Sgt. Luis R. Agostini

This poem was read during his memorial service:

In a crowd you see him,
standing so very tall.
Not too much impresses him,
He's seen and done it all.
His hair is short, his eyes are sharp,
His smile is a little blue,
And it's the only indication of hell he's been through.
It belongs to sacred brotherhood always faithful to the end,
Walked right into battle
And walked back out again.
Many people think him foolish for having no regrets,
But having lived through things that others would like to forget.
He's First to go last to know,
Never questions why,
Or whether it is right or wrong,
But only do or die.
He walked path most won't take,
And lost much along the way.
He takes a lot of freedom,
But it's small price to pay
He's chosen to live a life off of the beaten track,
Knowing well each time he goes, he might not make it back.
So Next time you see a devil dog be grateful of all he's given,
He's given it for you.
Don't go up and ask him what it's like to be in war,
Just thank God it's your country he's always fighting for.
Thank him, too, for all the hell he's seen in cammie green,
And thank him for having the courage to be a United States Marine.

Condolences to LCpl Parello's family and the Marines with whom he served.

Posted by Deb at 07:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 04, 2005

Starting 2005 on the right note

I hope this is true:

Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, whom the US occupation authorities declared to be the "target number one" in Iraq, has been arrested in the city of Baakuba, the Emirate newspaper al-Bayane reported on Tuesday referring to Kurdish sources. Al-Zarqawi, leader of the terrorist group Al-Tawhid Wa'al-Jihad, was recently appointed the director of the Al-Qaeda organisation in Iraq.

The newspaper's correspondent in Baghdad points out that a report on the seizure of the terrorist, on whom the US put a bounty of 10 million dollars, was also reported by Iraqi Kurdistan radio, which at one time had been the first to announce the arrest of Saddam Hussein.

Nothing official yet. But if this pans out, note that it was Iraqi police who made the arrest.

Posted by Deb at 08:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas from Husaybah

My son called from his base camp on the Syrian border with Christmas greetings for all of his family here at home and that is by far the best gift I received this year. Each e-mails is treasured but hearing his voice is so wonderful. He said it's surreal being over there for Christmas - it's just another day without the traditional surroundings of home and family. Next year, I hope he'll be home to celebrate with us. But other Marines will be taking the place of those who are giving up comforts of home to help bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Thank God for men and women such as these!

1/7 Battalion Commander, LtCol Chris Woodbridge, sends along this Christmas update:

23 Dec 04

Happy Holidays to the entire First Team family, from your Marines and sailors here in Iraq. First I want to thank everyone for the holiday cheer that has been flooding the battalion since Thanksgiving. The outpouring of support from everyone back home has been incredible, and we are all very grateful for the cards, letters, and care packages. I can assure you that even though we would all rather be with you during the holidays, we will celebrate the season's festivities as much as we can, and this will be a time to remember for everyone. It may be hard to believe considering that it was over 130 degrees here back in August, but we have had snow here in the last week! So, we just might have a white Christmas!

We are well past the halfway point in our tour in Iraq, and I know the questions that are on everyone's mind: when is the battalion coming home? Are we on schedule or will we be extended? While I can't pass on any specific dates yet, I can tell you that we are still on schedule to return home in March and there is no plan to extend us here. In fact, the battalion that will replace us here has already done a leader's recon and we are well on the way to turning over this area as planned.

We have continued to be very successful in our fight against the inisurgents in this area and we have not lost a Marine to enemy action since the 15th of Oct. Unfortunately, on the 21st of Dec, LCpl Pesche from A Company lost his life in a vehicle accident. Mishaps like this are always tragic, but more so at this time of year. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family in their time grief.

The next round of this fight will be the Iraqi national elections at the end of January. You can expect to hear a lot about this in the news in the coming weeks. These will be the first free elections in this country and they are the next step in building a democracy in Iraq. The hard work and sacrifices of every man in the battalion and you all back home are making this free future possible for the Iraqi people. We are all thankful for the continued support from the home front--we could not do what we do without all of you.

Best wishes for a happy and safe holiday season.
God bless and Semper Fi
LtCol Woodbridge

Merry Christmas to all deployed troops. You are never far from our thoughts but, especially today, we miss you and look forward to welcoming you back home.

Posted by Deb at 11:51 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 18, 2004

For all you do . . .

Photos by Gunnery Sgt. Chago Zapata

Marines work hard but they know how to play too. Here are pictures of Beer Day, held last Sunday at FOB Hotel. Marines and sailors with 1/4, 11th MEU each received the day off and two beers and a very small bottle of rum. Flag football, ping pong, volleyball and spades tournaments and other activities were arranged by the Morale, Welfare and Recreation representative.

Posted by Deb at 02:02 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

December 17, 2004

Dear Hero: America is counting on you

Chaplain Rosa, 24th MEU, writes:

"Dear Hero"... so began a letter I received from a third grade school student from a Christian school in Pennsylvania who was writing to encourage a then anonymous service member-me.

"...It's really nice of you to do what you are doing! I think that's amazing! America is counting on you. I always wanted to be a hero. So be proud that you're one.... It would be cool if you wrote me back! May God be with you!" Sincerely, Toni V.

Hero? I have never thought of myself as a hero. Heroes for me tended to be those people who are larger than life, who achieve major accomplishments and go on to legendary status. Then again I stopped to think what this third grade student wrote and I realized that the world is full of heroes- ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, teachers, moms, dads, grandparents, police, clergy, firefighters, doctors, plumbers, waitresses, secretaries, and students etc, even young ones are heroes. Heroes are those who don't give up on their responsibilities despite being tired, challenged or threatened. Heroes do the 'extra' ordinary by going that extra mile and seeing a task to completion and doing it with the right attitude-because it's the right thing to do.

The Holy Scriptures are filled with heroes of faith-- ordinary people who did extraordinary things like believing the possible when all seemed impossible or loving the unloving and staying faithful when others walked away from faith in God because of disappointment, frustration or even anger.

I wrote back to Toni and now I have a new extended family. I have a newfound group of young heroes who do the "extra" ordinary thing such as writing letters of encouragement and support or sending me care packages. When I have a long hard day and things don't always seem to go right, I think of Toni's words of encouragement and that heroes are ordinary people who do not give up because of temporary limitations or set backs and I recommit to the cause. But the real hero in all this is the 'ordinary' little girl in Pennsylvania who wrote an extraordinary letter and revolutionized my way of thinking. Toni and all of Mrs. Brown's students you are my new found heroes!

Lt. Cmdr. Louis Rosa, 24th MEU Chaplain.

There are kids like Toni all over the United States who need a hero to look up to . . . and there is no one more deserving of the title than a United States Marine.

Posted by Deb at 12:22 AM

December 16, 2004


Here's another story about one of our wounded heroes who refuses to give in to self-pity. He's an amazing Marine.

Read the eye chart on the wall. That's what they wanted Mike Jernigan to do.

He could've blasted back with some cutting remark. Maybe even complained to a supervisor. But when someone at a hospital is trying to help you, and you're a Marine, you give it your best shot.

So if he was supposed to read the eye chart, as the technician had asked without even looking up, that's what he would do.

After an awkward silence, Mike began:


Read the rest.

Posted by Deb at 09:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 09, 2004

A P.O.G. pays tribute to 1/3 Charlie infantry Marines

Sgt. Clinton Firstbrook, combat correspondent with 1st Marine Division, wrote this candid and compelling account of his experience with 1/3 Charlie during the Battle of Fallujah.

On Nov. 8, I was cramped inside an Amtrac with 28 Marines in full combat gear when two mortar rounds landed next to our position. The flash lit the inside of the vehicle and the Marines who were standing fell. Several screamed they had been hit. As sparks floated to the floor, and as blood from the Marine standing next to me ran down the side of my flak jacket, all I could think was What had I gotten myself into?

Four months ago, my life was different. I worked in the Community Relations office at the Pentagon, which I refer to as the concrete jungle; one wrong turn and youre lost. I wore service Charlies every day and only broke out my cammies for field day. An average day for me consisted of answering phone calls, faxes and e-mails from people who had questions about the Marine Corps. My main job was handling Marine Corps band requests from all around the U.S. It was an administrative job, but it wasnt too bad. Stress for me was waiting around for the shuttle bus to go back to Henderson Hall when it didnt show up on time. When a quota came out requesting combat correspondents to deploy for Iraq, I raised my hand. Its hard to explain why now, but I just wanted to be a part of what was going on over here. Six months later, I was working at the Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad, traveling around the country writing stories on all of the services stationed in Iraq. I saw my fair share of mortar attacks and convoy patrols, but never any real combat. A week before we entered Fallujah, I was assigned to the I Marine Expeditionary Force to report on the 1st Marine Divisions Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen during the impending Operation Al Fajr.

A few days after arriving to Camp Fallujah, I was attached to Charlies third platoon, in 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. Running around with a camera the size of a football doesnt really allow you to blend. I heard jokes as soon as my boots hit the ground. First they asked if Im a photographer, then came the lines from Full Metal Jacket. Seen any combat? Nothing Im not used to though, it goes with the territory.

As the days went by, I tried to attend every brief and training exercise the platoon conducted. I wanted to know exactly where Id be placed when we got into the thick of things. Im a P.O.G. (person other than grunt) and proud of it, but I didnt want to do anything stupid when rounds were going down range.

Three days before we left , I was assigned to first squad, third fire team. I would be the fourth man. They were a tight group of guys who did everything together and understand why the higher ups wanted me along for this mission. They answered every question I had about their role in the squad. Even after the platoon had finished its training each day, they spent countless hours with me going over tactics to make sure I would know what to do and how to react when thrown into certain situations. However, none of the extra training prepared me for that first night in the Fallujah.

When the Amtrac doors opened and everyone ran out, I didnt even think of trying to take pictures. I ran right behind someone and jumped down right next to him. All I wanted to do was find cover. Two members of my fire team were extracted by medevac right then and there. I was left to fend for myself, and so was the other Marine left from my fire team. I just looked to the guys beside me and did what they did.

When we loaded up again to head for the breech point, my legs started shaking uncontrollably. I tried to hide it, but I know whoever was sitting next to me felt it. I grabbed a railing in the opening of the Amtrac to steady myself and put my hand in a pool of blood. I knew exactly what it was and tried to wipe it off right away. I didnt want to think about what had just happened.

When we arrived at the breech point a few hundred meters from the city, there were no fires or explosions to light our way. It was a moonless night, and I could barely make out the Marines who were running in front of me. We trekked through ankle-deep mud, stumbling over the holes and ditches hidden in the shadows of our night-vision goggles. We were trying to find our way to the point where we were supposed to infiltrate the city. I was still shaken up, but I pushed forward.

When we arrived at the edge of the city, all was quiet except for the rumbling prayers emanating from a mosque that was held by insurgents. We were the first platoon from 1/3 to enter Fallujah, and the enemy was unaware of our presence.

We sneaked as quiet as possible down the first street of broken-down buildings looking for a place to establish a foothold our first objective. While part of the platoon looked for a house to base our operations, the rest of us bounded in fire teams to the first intersection. As I lay in the prone behind a mound of dirt alongside two other Marines, I could make out our second objective: a mosque held by insurgents.

We only laid there for a minute or two when I started hearing shouts in Arabic that seemed to be coming from right around the corner: Ensha Allah! (God willing) Allahhoo akbar! (God is great).

I couldnt see anyone, but I knew they were out there waiting. Then it happened. Barrel flashes from AK-47s sprayed tracer rounds over our heads at once in every direction. Our battle for Fallujah had started, and I was nowhere near ready for it.

When there was a lull in gun fire, we pulled back to a safer position. Not being able to see everything and having rounds bearing down on my position plus the mortar incident earlier was too much. I thought I was going to die right then and there. Im a P.O.G. What am I doing here on the front lines? I dont belong here. Thoughts like that echoed in my mind as each second passed and I made them well known. I didnt care. I wanted out of there and back in the rear. To my surprise, I wasnt laughed at or mocked. They told me itll be all right and not to worry; they were going to watch my back. The Marines I talked to said they were just as scared. While they said they were afraid, I didnt see their fear. None of them faltered or hesitated while doing their jobs. I watched as they ran through a hail of bullets diving behind a makeshift wall of cinder blocks to lay down cover and suppressing fire as other members of their squad ran to other positions down the street. I have respect for all Marines no matter what their occupation because they earned the title just as I did, but that night, I gained a newfound respect for O3s, infantrymen different from the respect I gave everyone else.

For some reason, when the sun rose, my fear melted away with the night sky. Everything that had occurred only hours before seemed unreal like I was watching a movie. During the weeks that followed, I fed off the strength of the Marines around me and the patrols and fire fights hardly bothered me. Dont get me wrong, I was still nervous every time we went in to clear a house, but I felt different somehow in a way that I cant even describe. I hope the history books depict Fallujah as it should, describing the heroic acts and sacrifices of the Marines who took part in the operation. In time, some of my memories might fade only to be remembered when I scan over the images I captured on film, but I will never forget the Marines of Charlie Company who fought beside me. I wouldnt be here if it wasnt for them. They are the reason I can tell this story today.

Posted by Deb at 12:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 30, 2004

Wish List for Infantry Marines

Wondering what to get your favorite Marine for Christmas? Here's a list compiled by Charlie Company Marines from 1/3.

  1. Advanced combat optical gun sight/Binoculars: When youre on post, you can tell what individuals walking down the street (blocks away) are carrying, said Cpl. Michael Fredtkou, a M-203 gunner. The enemy doesnt expect you to see them that far away.

  2. Energy bars: Theyre lightweight, easy to get to, said Staff Sgt. Luis Lopez, 3rd platoon sergeant. Plus theyre not as bulky as MREs. (meals-ready-to-eat)

  3. Kevlar cushions: The old padding gives you a headache after wearing it for a few hours, said 1st Lt. Travis Fuller, 3rd platoon commander. After a few minutes with the cushions on, you cant even tell its there.

  4. Elbow/Knee pads: If it wouldnt be for these things, my knees would be completely cut up by now, said Lance Cpl. Tim Riffe, a machine gunner. You can only take so much jumping into a defensive position without them.

  5. Personal Role Radio: Communication has been a huge key in our operations, said Cpl. Tyrone Wilson, 2nd squad leader. When my squad was across the street in a defensive position, the platoon was able to let me know insurgents were in the building next to us. Who knows what wouldve happened if they couldnt contact me.

  6. Global Positioning System: Im able to pinpoint our location within 10 meters when calling in position reports and medevacs, said Lance Cpl. William Woolley, a radio operator. Well never get lost as long as we have it.

  7. Extra socks: My feet are nice and dry right now, said Lance Cpl. Kaleb Welch, a squad automatic weapon (SAW) gunner. Ive gone without changing my socks before on three to four day training exercises and I always regretted it later.

  8. Gloves: Theyre clutch because when youre climbing over a wall you dont have to worry about broken glass cutting your hands, said Cpl. Gabriel Trull, 1st squad leader. You also dont burn your hands when changing 240 golf barrels.

  9. Baby wipes: Its a multi-use piece of gear, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Irving Ochoa, a Navy Corpsman. "You dont have much time out here for personal hygiene, so its the best alternative.

  10. Three-point sling: When youre jumping over rooftops you dont want to worry about dropping your weapon, said Cpl. Dave Willis, 3rd squad leader. At any time you can just reach down and grab it.

  11. Alice/Day pack: Without these I dont know how Id carry all of my gear, said Lance Cpl. Geoffery Bivins, a SAW gunner. It displaces all of the weight around my body, so Im not uncomfortable. When youre running with 100 lbs. on your back, thats important.

  12. Night Vision Goggles: Wearing these at night gives you the advantage over the enemy, said Lance Cpl. Marquirez Chavery, a combat engineer. When youre on a rooftop at night you can see everything.

  13. Personal hydration system: Water is one of the things you always need to make sure you have, said Seaman Hugo Lara, a Navy corpsman. Instead of struggling to get your canteens out, the cord is there within your reach. Plus it holds more water as well.

  14. Watch with compass: You get calls where you have to lay down suppressing fire in a certain direction and instead of wasting time to ask which way is north or south, you can just look at your wrist, said Lance Cpl. Lonny Kelly, a machine gunner. Knowing the time is important because everyone pulls shifts for guard duty or standing post. How would you know when your shift starts or stops without one?

  15. AA batteries: You use them for your NVGs and handheld radios; both which contribute to more effective fighting, said Cpl. Bryan Morales, 1st squad 1st fire team, team leader. You wouldnt want either of those items dying on you, so having a spare set of batteries around is very important.

  16. Poncho/poncho liner: The temperature at night is extremely different during the day, said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Etterling, machine gun team leader. If you dont have some sort of protection at night, you end up freezing because youre cammies are still damp from sweating during the day.

  17. Ballistic goggles: I was the A-driver one of our convoys and we got hit by an IED (improvised explosive device), said Lance Cpl. Anthony Johnson, an assaultman. Shrapnel bounced off of my glasses, saving my vision.

  18. Multi-purpose portable tool kit: Its like carrying a combat knife, hammer and screwdriver in one hand, said Lance Cpl. Evan Fernandez, an assaultman. "Cutting open MREs, cleaning your weapon, tightening screws on your gear; it has a thousand uses.

  19. Carabineers: Anything that you might have to grab at a moments notice, you dont want to be digging through your pockets to try and find it, said Pfc. Jason Kurtz, a SAW gunner. With these you can attach anything to your flak and have right at your fingertips.

  20. High powered flashlight: It does wonders, said Cpl. Chris Williams, 2nd squad 1st fire team leader. After you throw a fragmentation grenade into a room its difficult to see because of all the dust floating around. No one can hide from them."

Posted by Deb at 10:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 29, 2004

Heroism under fire

Sgt. Peralta cleaning his weapon after training at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton in February 2003.
Photo by Sgt. Charles E. Moore
"Tomorrow, at 19:00 hours (7 p.m.), we are going to declare war in the holy city of Fallujah," Peralta wrote to Ricardo, 14. "We are going to defeat the insurgents. Watch the news, it's going to be all over. Be proud of me, bro, I'm going to make history and do something that I always wanted to do."

This exerpt from a letter sent by Sgt. Rafael Peralta was received by his younger brother, Ricardo, one day after the Peralta family learned that their Marine was killed in action on November 16, 2004. It was his first and last letter to his brother and after he mailed it, Sgt. Peralta indeed made history as one more in a long line of Marine Corps heroes. His final act of bravery saved the lives of his brother Marines at the cost of his own. It will be retold by future generations of Devil Dogs who will privately wonder if they could ever measure up to this example of selfless service.

From the Seattle Times:

Sgt. Rafael Peralta built a reputation as a man who always put his Marines' interests ahead of his own.

He showed that again, when he made the ultimate sacrifice of his life Tuesday, by shielding his fellow Marines from a grenade blast.

"It's stuff you hear about in boot camp, about World War II and Tarawa Marines who won the Medal of Honor," said Lance Cpl. Rob Rogers, 22, of Tallahassee, Fla., one of Peralta's platoon mates in 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Peralta, 25, as platoon scout, wasn't even assigned to the assault team that entered the insurgent safe house in northern Fallujah, Marines said. Despite an assignment that would have allowed him to avoid such dangerous duty, he regularly asked squad leaders if he could join their assault teams, they said.

One of the first Marines to enter the house, Peralta was wounded in the face by rifle fire from a room near the entry door, said Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison, 20, of Tacoma, who was in the house when Peralta was first wounded.

Moments later, an insurgent rolled a fragmentation grenade into the area where a wounded Peralta and the other Marines were seeking cover.

As Morrison and another Marine scrambled to escape the blast, pounding against a locked door, Peralta grabbed the grenade and cradled it into his body, Morrison said. While one Marine was badly wounded by shrapnel from the blast, the Marines said they believe more lives would have been lost if not for Peralta's selfless act.

"He saved half my fire team," said Cpl. Brannon Dyer, 27, of Blairsville, Ga.

Sgt. Peralta finished his letter to his younger brother:

"Just think about God and we will all be together again," he wrote. "If anything happens to me, just remember I lived my life to the fullest and I'm happy with what I lived."

Letters of condolence for Sgt. Peralta's family can be sent to:

Humphrey Mortuary
753 Broadway
Chula Vista, CA 91910-5328

Posted by Deb at 03:47 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 28, 2004

The CinC's Thanksgiving Radio Address

Good morning. As Americans gather to celebrate this week, we show our gratitude for the many blessings in our lives. We are grateful for our friends and families who fill our lives with purpose and love. We're grateful for our beautiful country, and for the prosperity we enjoy. We're grateful for the chance to live, work and worship in freedom. And in this Thanksgiving week, we offer thanks and praise to the provider of all these gifts, Almighty God.

We also recognize our duty to share our blessings with the least among us. Throughout the holiday season, schools, churches, synagogues and other generous organizations gather food and clothing for their neighbors in need. Many young people give part of their holiday to volunteer at homeless shelters or food pantries. On Thanksgiving, and on every day of the year, America is a more hopeful nation because of the volunteers who serve the weak and the vulnerable.

The Thanksgiving tradition of compassion and humility dates back to the earliest days of our society. And through the years, our deepest gratitude has often been inspired by the most difficult times. Almost four centuries ago, the pilgrims set aside time to thank God after suffering through a bitter winter. George Washington held Thanksgiving during a trying stay at Valley Forge. And President Lincoln revived the Thanksgiving tradition in the midst of a civil war.

The past year has brought many challenges to our nation, and Americans have met every one with energy, optimism and faith. After lifting our economy from a recession, manufacturers and entrepreneurs are creating jobs again. Volunteers from across the country came together to help hurricane victims rebuild. And when the children of Beslan, Russia suffered a brutal terrorist attack, the world saw America's generous heart in an outpouring of compassion and relief.

The greatest challenges of our time have come to the men and women who protect our nation. We're fortunate to have dedicated firefighters and police officers to keep our streets safe. We're grateful for the homeland security and intelligence personnel who spend long hours on faithful watch. And we give thanks to the men and women of our military who are serving with courage and skill, and making our entire nation proud.

Like generations before them, today's armed forces have liberated captive peoples and shown compassion for the suffering and delivered hope to the oppressed. In the past year, they have fought the terrorists abroad so that we do not have to face those enemies here at home. They've captured a brutal dictator, aided last month's historic election in Afghanistan, and help set Iraq on the path to democracy.

Our progress in the war on terror has made our country safer, yet it has also brought new burdens to our military families. Many servicemen and women have endured long deployments and painful separations from home. Families have faced the challenge of raising children while praying for a loved one's safe return. America is grateful to all our military families, and the families mourning a terrible loss this Thanksgiving can know that America will honor their sacrifices forever.

As Commander-in-Chief, I've been honored to thank our troops at bases around the world, and I've been inspired by the efforts of private citizens to express their own gratitude. This month, I met Shauna Fleming, a 15-year-old from California who coordinated the mailing of a million thank you letters to military personnel. In October, I met Ken Porwoll, a World War II veteran who has devoted years of his retirement to volunteering at a VA medical center in Minneapolis. And we've seen the generosity of so many organizations, like Give2theTroops, a group started in a basement by a mother and son that has sent thousands of care packages to troops in the field.

Thanksgiving reminds us that America's true strength is the compassion and decency of our people. I thank all those who volunteer this season, and Laura and I wish every American a happy and safe Thanksgiving weekend.

Thank you for listening.

Posted by Deb at 11:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 13, 2004

House Fly

After a week of waiting and worrying, my cell phone rang this morning. My son had waited in line for several hours for a 20 minute phone call, knowing that e-mail is sufficient but a phone call is over the top for this Marine mom. He was upbeat and positive after a week in the field. After giving me a list of equipment to order for him (the USMC provides everything he needs but there are a few luxuries on the battlefield - special ops gloves, surefire flashlights, and modular ammo pouches that keep everything at fingertip reach), he described his most recent encounter:

We watched a air strike on a house yesterday - the house disintegrated into a pile of rubble and the roof lifted off about 200 feet and then settled on the pile. Now I can say I've seen a house fly!

Were there people inside the house?

Well, that's kind of the point of it. It's weird being in combat. It's like the movies except it's real.

Posted by Deb at 04:51 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

November 12, 2004

Good news from Fallujah

A Marine Mom with a son in Fallujah reports that there are long lines of Marines waiting to call home. Outbound communication has been restored and things are looking very good. While they can't and won't provide detailed information, our Marines report that things are going "very well".

Posted by Deb at 11:12 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A letter from the Commanding General - 1MEF

A letter to the families of the 1st Marine Division from the Commanding
General, dated November 10, 2004

Dear Families and Friends of First Marine Division:

We are entering the fourth day of Operation Al Fasr (formerly Phantom Fury), which means "the dawn" in Arabic. The Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Division are performing exceptionally well. We have met our intermediate objectives and will continue until we reach our final objectives. Joining us in this task are elements of the 1st Infantry Division and the Blackjack Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division. We are proud to continue the tradition forged at Belleau Wood of Marines and Soldiers fighting beside each other. The bravery of the men and women of the Division is unwavering. As I visit units engaged in the fight, I can see determination and resolve in their eyes. You should be proud of your loved one and understand they take on a task that is critical to our long-term goals in Iraq.

This mission is not without sacrifice. My prayers go out to the families who have suffered loss and we remember and honor their loved one's memory.

Today is the 229th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps. I want to extend my best wishes to all our families and friends. Please take a second to remember the great legacy of our Corps. Marines of the Division will celebrate the birthday of our Corps today throughout Iraq. Most of our celebrations will take place in fighting positions with small groups of Marines cutting pound cake
from an MRE. Once our operations in Fallujah end, we will celebrate more formally.

Your thoughts and prayers continue to give us strength. We appreciate your courage and faith. May God continue to watch over us and give His blessings to the 1st Marine Division and it's families.

Posted by Deb at 01:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 11, 2004

Devon is here!

New babies are special and this one is no exception. Baby Devon Jones was born this morning to his wonderful mother, Bobbi, and proud grandparents Jack and Claudia Jones, and Robert and Gayle Roberts. I am certain that his father, Sgt. Curtis Jones was looking down from heaven, and that he will be a very special guardian angel for his little boy. If you missed the earlier story, read it here.

Here is proud grandma Claudia's announcement:

At 4:56 this morning, Devon Curtis Jones came into the world, a little blue but vocal. He weighed 8 lb. 3 oz. and is 20 inches long. Bobbi gave it her all. She was admitted into the hospital about 12:30 p.m. and hung out until about 9:00 p.m. when things became exciting. She and the baby are doing great. We are all excited and grateful that Devon is finally in our lives for real. Needless to say, Bobbi was not alone in the coming of her and Curt's baby. We all shared it with her and a few of her close friends. Even Captain JR Rinaldi came last night and spent some time with us. He had to leave before the big event came so he could go to work today. We are excited and thrilled as new grandparents should be. Love to all Jack and Claudia

Posted by Deb at 02:13 PM

October 04, 2004

Troop survey favors Bush over Kerry

This is interesting.

President George Bush garnered nearly three-quarters of military votes in a newspaper survey, according to the Military Times newspapers.

Bush leads Democratic Sen. John Kerry 73 percent to 18 percent in the survey of 4,165 active-duty, National Guard and reserve subscribers to Army Times, Navy Times, Marine Corps Times and Air Force Times, which are owned by the Gannett Co.

It's certainly not a random sample - the 4,000+ voluntary respondents were overrepresented by career military - but they may be more likely to vote than younger troops.

Posted by Deb at 05:01 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 28, 2004

Report from the Sandbox

Greyhawk has arrived and here's what he saw today at the Dining FACility (DFAC):

But here's what I noticed in the DFAC today: young faces. Young determined faces. Not much older (but far wiser and much more mature) than the crowd at a high school lunch room. You can tell without asking what these guys think. They look you in the eye. And if you can stand to look back you'll see into the eyes of the undefeated. There is no quit here, no early out, no cut and run. These are young men with an ugly job, America's finest sent to do our worst and best, and they make me feel old and inspired all at the same time.

So here is the first impression of your fine young sons: They walk straight and tall with heads held high in this war-torn world, in this sagging land. I wish you who can only read of defeat trumpeted in your newspapers or on your TVs could have walked among them and seen this for yourselves.

I read where someone said George Bush and Dick Cheney are the only people in America who think Iraq is going well. That may be so, but I don't believe for a minute they think it's a picnic.

And I saw 300 young Americans in Iraq today who didn't look like quitters.

Posted by Deb at 08:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2004

SecDef on Troop Rotation

Donald Rumsfeld recently spoke at Fort Leonard Wood and was asked about the differences between Army (12 month) and Marine (7 month) rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's his reply:

I?ve had two meetings with the Army and two meetings with the Marines on this. And I look at it and I say to myself that doesn?t make a lot of sense. You got seven-month rotation for the Marines, 12 months for the Army. And the Marines argue vigorously that they?re circumstance is that they have many more younger people who come in, serve a tour and leave and that the way they?re rhythm ? their rotation rhythm is that they can get seven months and then have those people go back and then get them again ? possibly, depending on their tour length ? and end up with 14 months during a period when the Army may have had 12.

And then you raise the question, well, -- but isn?t that inefficient. You have to bring them back and bring them forth and they say, well, now we?re doing that with the Army anyway. After six months, we?re sending them back home for two weeks. And then you say, well, isn?t it a little short, seven months to get situational awareness and to really get good at what you?re doing.

And they argue on the contrary, that it works for them. And they say that sometimes when you have a 12-month tour in a combat zone, about the last three or four or five months, your head?s kind of getting out of the game and you?d like to get out of there. So there are pluses and minuses for both arguments. Pete Schoomaker and the Army are absolutely convinced that they?re doing it the right way at a maximum of 12 months. The Marines are absolutely convinced they?re doing it at a seven-month rotation and I am as uncertain of either as I was before I had my two meetings with each of them.

Now that?s ? confession is good for the soul. [Laughter] They each make good points. And I am very big for jointness and it bothers me to think that people in the Army will look at the Marine rotating in and leaving after seven months and thinking they?re not pulling their oar. And so it?s that disconnect that worries me the most about it. There?s no plan at present to change it. And I have no plans to have anymore meetings with either of them on this subject. [Laughter]

Speaking as the mother of a Marine who is beginning his second seven month rotation, I hope that Secretary Rumsfeld sticks to his plan. Troops come home, train, reconnect with family, and return to the sandbox refreshed and motivated. New troops serve along seasoned Marines. Situational awareness is there; due in part to this mix of experience and training.

Posted by Deb at 08:36 PM | Comments (1)

September 07, 2004

First e-mail from the sandbox

After a nail-biting week for me, I received my son's first e-mail home after arriving in the al Anbar province last week. I'm a very happy mom tonight.

hey mom I made it to [destination]. its not as bad as I thought it would be. Ive been doing patrols and it gets a little crazy out there but Im confident we'll accomplish the mission we have all ready been kicking ass all over town. We live in an air conditiond hooch and have actual beds and a t.v. and Dvd Player I need socks A.S.A.P. long white ones if possible also to use the phones here i need a phone card from sergoviaip.com, I tried to use my g mail account but I couldnt get in. Anyways gotta go tell brook I love her and miss her very much and have her e-mail me nobody has received mail yet so hopefully we'll get some soon. Love ya Shane

Socks mailed, phone card purchased and codes sent. It reminds me a bit of summer camp days, except that now, they are using real bullets instead of rubber-band guns and the "bad guys" really are bad. Kids grow up. Some kids grow up to become Marines and thank God for that.

Posted by Deb at 09:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

Update on Steve-O

Two months ago, the story of Steve-O was published in the Wall Street Journal. Since then, a number of people have written letters on his behalf and his future is looking brighter. Fox News is running this as a lead story today:

FORT CARSON, Colo. ? Ever since the soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment returned home to Fort Carson (search) from their first tour in Iraq in May they've been working hard to bring back one of their comrades left behind ? an Iraqi boy nicknamed "Steve-O."

When Steve-O met the soldiers in December 2003 he offered them intelligence that helped them get enemy fighters ? including his own father ? off the street. But the teen?s decision to turn in his father and cooperate with Americans cost him dearly ? his mother was killed later as payback.

The U.S. soldiers were now all Steve-O had, and they vowed to bring him to safety in America, but their deployment was coming to an end.

Once back in Colorado the soldiers contacted the boy?s uncle asking him to sign paperwork allowing Steve-O to travel to America, but that is just one step in an arduous process that isn't over yet.

Pentagon officials say they are ?working with all the appropriate agencies to bring [Steve-O] here as soon as possible for medical assessment and treatment.?

In a few weeks Steve-O will be brought to America to treat an eye injury. The soldiers at Fort Carson have great hopes for his future, that he?ll be out of harms way and receive an education.

The soldiers have already set up a fund to help Steve-O begin a new life in America:

JH Iraqi Youth Trust 6660 Delmonico Drive Suite D #410 Colorado Springs, CO 80919

Getting him to the U.S. is a big first step. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for him.

Posted by Deb at 12:38 PM | Comments (6)

Get Some!

Via Jeff at Backcountry Conservative, here's a report on what our Marines are up to - and up against - at Fallujah.

There is perhaps "no better combined-arms raid force in the world" than a Marine Expeditionary Unit, Col. Jeffery Bearor told National Review Online Friday. Unfortunately for Shiite firebrand Moqtada al Sadr, that's just the force that has been brought to bear on his Mahdi-army militiamen in and around the holy city of Najaf.

On August 5, after months of allowing al Sadr's insurgency to go virtually unchecked, the newly arrived 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th MEU) including attached U.S. Army cavalry elements and Iraqi National Guard troops began battling the Mahdi army in force.

Last Thursday, the 11th MEU launched a major offensive toward Najaf's city center. On Friday, a tenuous ceasefire was called to allow for negotiations between Iraqi-government officials and al Sadr's chief lieutenants. The talks broke down on Saturday, and the U.S.-led force resumed the offensive early Sunday.

Perhaps al Sadr, reportedly slightly wounded, believes he can buy more time. Perhaps, he hopes Najaf will become another Fallujah: There, al Qaeda strongman Abu Musab al Zarqawi's guerilla forces were being systematically destroyed by U.S. Marines when in a glaring political move the Americans were called off to allow a somewhat impotent all-Iraqi brigade to move into the city in early May (Fallujah is still a dangerous battle-zone and Zarqawi is still at large).

Perhaps al Sadr believes his ranks will swell dramatically if the Americans continue pressing the attack, particularly if holy sites like Najaf's Imam Ali mosque are directly targeted, collaterally damaged, or destroyed. The mosque, which has been used as a battlefield sanctuary by Mahdi militiamen, is adjacent to a vast cemetery where much of the fighting has taken place.

Exhorting his followers to continue battling the Americans even if he is captured or killed, al Sadr may be beginning to accept that his days are numbered. Or he may be trying to infuse a fighting spirit in his militiamen.

Either way, he is clearly underestimating the determination of the fledgling Iraqi government and U.S. military commanders to ensure that Najaf will be no Fallujah.

Read the rest here.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that our Marines will be allowed to finish their task this time. If they had been allowed to take out Sadr last summer, it would have prevented a lot of present-day problems.

Posted by Deb at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

Good News from Iraq - 8th edition

Arthur Chrenkoff has his latest comprehensive roundup of good news from Iraq posted. Here's a snippet:

The challenges still ahead in Iraq are considerable, but the media in its manic rush from one disaster to the next and from one "quagmire" to another rarely provides the context that would help us understand the situation. Having followed the mainstream media coverage, one can be forgiven for thinking that our task in Iraq is merely to return the country to its pre-war status quo. More often than not lost in reporting is the realization that Iraq has to recover not just from the violence and destruction of the last year and a half, but of the past 30 years. Iraq of March 2003 was not a normal, well-functioning state thrown into chaos and mayhem only by the arrival of the Coalition forces. In reality, the pre-invasion Iraq was a wreck of a country whose great potential of the 1950s and 1960s has been all but completely squandered for the sake of the aggrandizement of one man and the hegemony of his party. It's important to bear that in mind before rushing to criticize the Coalition authorities for failing to rebuild in a year what took three decades to destroy.

That the Iraqi people are not giving up on their desire to overcome the tragic and soul-destroying legacy of the Baath Party misrule and are courageously forging ahead with their new lives is truly a testament to the power of the spirit and human tenacity.

Read his compendium of progress - it's a great way to kick off Monday.

Posted by Deb at 09:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 12, 2004

Democracy in America, coming soon to Iraq

Brian Palmer, a journalist who has been published in Newsday, Newsweek, The New York Times, Fortune, US News & World Report, and other publications, is currently on ground with the 24th MEU in Iraq. He's keeping a digital diary, currently on week 4, and it's fascinating reading. It is as much a personal reflective journal as a reporter's narrative. Here are some snippets from the first four weeks:

Excerpt - Week One:

Tomorrow I depart for Kuwait with an element of the 24th MEU, a group of roughly 2200 Marines. The MEU will spend a number of days training in Kuwait before deploying to the Baghdad area where it will be conducting security and stability operations, according to Captain Dave Nevers, a Public Affairs Officer who will deploy to Iraq as well. These Marines will patrol, operate vehicle checkpoints, meet local leaders, and undertake civil affairs projects. Fundamentally, though, they have been sent to fight.

I am going to Iraq, as an American and as a journalist, to witness the war. In this cynical, postmodern era I stress the word witness, a choice that may strike some as old-fashioned, even nave. I understand I will be seeing the war from one vantage point, that of a single Marine unit, possibly a single rifle team. I cannot tell the complete story of the war. I will most likely not be able to see much from the Iraqi side nor hear what Iraqis have to say about the US occupation. But I will try to report everything I see and hear clearly and honestly.

Excerpt - Week Two:

Marines have been dispatched around the world by successive US presidents in configurations like the MEU to give force to a variety of policies. Administrations say, Jump, and the Marines do just that. Or as a MEU commander told a reporter and me 10 years ago: "We kill people and blow things up."

That crude -- and accurate -- statement floored me. It also changed my life. I was a crunchy Brown University graduate who hadn't served in the armed forces. In fact, I never had any interest in joining up. Vietnam War footage I watched on my family's black-and-white TV as a kid terrified me. Over the years I absorbed the belief, pervasive in some parts of American society, that the armed forces were something to be protested -- or ignored.

Another crucial factor: My father served in the Army during the Korean War, which was just a couple of years after President Truman ordered the armed forces to mix its all-black and all-white units. Truman's desegregation proclamation, however, didn't magically transform the hearts and minds of the white servicemen who attacked and beat my father and his squad, black men, for simply getting "too friendly" with a couple of German waitresses. "Never join the white man's army," my father, the former sergeant, warned, seething.

But the military I covered in the early 90s was not my father's military. The racial dynamic on the ships on which I sailed was similar to what I saw and lived elsewhere in the US; it was a work-in-progress. I stumbled into pockets of matter-of-fact racial and ethnic harmony aboard the USS America and the USS Guadalcanal, even as I noted the scarcity of colored folks in command meetings.

More profoundly, though, the MEU commander's blunt statement -- and the month I spent aboard US Navy ships photographing Marines and sailors -- made me realize that my reflexive mistrust of the military was pointless, irresponsible, and self-indulgent. The military simply is. The armed forces are a tremendously powerful tool that has been misused by Presidents -- and used constructively and heroically by some administrations as well. Understanding the military -- what it is, what it has done, and what it can do -- is a citizen's responsibility. This is, I realized, is a form of patriotism, which isn't just waving the flag and supporting every move the president makes. Nor is it opposing every step of the guy you didn't vote for, but who got elected anyway. Patriotism, in my view, means participating in the shaping of this nation and holding our leaders accountable for their actions.

"You are in a danger zone right now, here in Kuwait," US Army Lt. General David McKiernan says in the videotaped portion of the presentation. The video urges all personnel to stay alert, both here and in Iraq. It is also provides shorthand hints for conducting oneself among Iraqis: "Do not stare at the women.... Shake hands firmly.... Punctuality is not necessarily their priority." Do not show bottoms of one's feet; do not ask specifics; "and do not mock calls to prayer." Subsequent briefings by Marine commanders will cover similar territory, but in the Corps' jaw-dropping, fuck-you manner. "We are going to kill and kill and kill -- not the innocent, only the enemy -- until they are sick of this war," General James Mattis, commander of the First Marine Division, tells the Marines of the 24th MEU. During my week at Camp Virginia, I hear a few, but not many, Marines refer to "hajjis" and make other saddening and disparaging remarks about the folks who live in this region. But I also run into a lance corporal who shows me her Iraqi Arabic CDs and tells me she's struggling to find time to continue studying.

"I want to put an Iraqi face on what we're doing," Colonel Ron Johnson, the 24th MEU commander tells an assembly of officers and senior enlisted personnel. That means training the Iraqi National Guard to beat back the forces who attack the ING and the US military. "Be patient with the Iraqis," Johnson continues. "I know you're going to look at them and laugh. You're going to see young kids with broomsticks trying to do squad-level tactics... Don't let your men look down at these guys."

"Take the sunglasses down and talk to them eyeball to eyeball. In the Arab world, the eyes tell the truth," Johnson adds. "Give these people respect. That's all they're looking for."

Excerpt - Week Three:

"Welcome to fucking Iraq," Gunny Myers cracked at the next formation of his Marines, the first one on the Iraqi side of the border. Later, after they had stripped off their body armor and salt-streaked shirts, I asked the crew of one vehicle what it felt like to be in-country. "Hot," said one, with purposeful understatement. "It's a little warm here, joked another. These are young and gung-ho guys, 20 and 21 years old, never been in combat. They deploy blas tough-guy attitudes, for me, I assume, and possibly for each other.

"I'm not saying it's going to be like a day at Six Flags," one Marine adds, but he's psyched to finally be in Iraq and to be on the verge of combat. Lance Corporal Jerry Wemple, at 29 the oldest Marine on his vehicle, is the only on the vehicle who deployed to Iraq last year. He offered a cautionary note. "I don't think they're totally grasping what it's going to be like," he said diplomatically. Older Marines I have spoken to show a hardened matter-of-factness about what they do. I ask Staff Sergeant Moyer how he felt about heading to Iraq. "I just try to focus on the job at hand. Whatever happens, happens," he told me as we rumbled north on MSR Tampa, the highway from Kuwait to Iraq.

But 24th MEU Marines have also been given talking points from higher-ups to use on the media. "Be the cocky obnoxious bastards you can be," commanded General James Mattis at a welcoming briefing their first week at Camp Virginia. Tell the press nothing negative. If they ask about the heat, tell them "no problem," tell them you're thinking of buying property on the Euphrates. Of casualties, he said, "we shall grieve in private." But, he added, make sure to tell those reporters, "watch us tomorrow."

"Contact is likely," Gunnery Sergeant Myers told the men on the last day of the convoy, the last push north. "Ninety-nine percent of the people want us here. The other one percent we're going to fucking kill," he shouted. "Stay sharp the rest fucking way. Trust your training -- and trust your fucking senior Marines."

Excerpt - Week Four:

"Come on," the Master Sergeant yelled at me. As calmly as I could manage, I put on my body armor and collected my cameras, then I followed them into the sharp and disorienting daylight. For a moment, soldiers and Marines milled around anxiously. Mortar rounds exploded meters from the building we occupied. Another explosion. A small cloud of dust bloomed not too far -- but not too close -- to the gaggle of men.

During the momentary lull, soldiers sprinted toward bomb shelters and piled in. "Push in, push in," Marines shouted. "Nut to butt! Nut to butt!" another screamed.

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August 09, 2004

Burning Rubber

Marine Corps Moms all over the country are justifiably proud of what their children are accomplishing in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. Proud Marine Corps Mom Pat Costantini passes along this news story about how the 1st LAR, under her son's leadership, is making the country safer for both Marines and Iraqis. Here's a snippet:

The Medevac helicopter delivered the three wounded Marines at around 2 a.m. to this base in western Iraq, an hour after their Humvee exploded from one of the roadside bombs that increasingly litter this stretch of highway.

"Litter" is the operative word. For at least the third time, the bomb was hidden in a car tire lying in the median of the road.

"To tell you the truth, they should've seen this one. It was pretty obvious," said Marine Lt. Col. William Costantini, 41, commander of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. He is holding a twisted piece of metal, shrapnel from the 155mm artillery round that was hidden in the tire.

"But they were tired, they had already been out for an hour," he explained.

The three Marines will recover; one has a broken leg, another deep lacerations. One will return to duty almost immediately.

The Marines know what to look for.

Not long ago he was inspecting a tire on the side of the road. One of his men walked up to a second one nearby.

"Are they supposed to have antennas sticking out of them?" the Marine asked.

Costantini called in an explosives squad.

"If the shooter had been there, he could have wiped all of us out," he said, shaking his head. "We were just standing there."

Understanding the political climate and history of the region helps.

In this part of Iraq, Costantini says, his enemy is not driven by a political agenda as much as his own self-interest. Rutbah, the closest town to "Camp KV," is a historic center for smugglers. The route is thousands of years old, and became firmly entangled with the Baathist regime during the decade of economic sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein. What commercial goods Iraq managed to get flowed through this tiny town, and there were profits made at every level.

"They smuggle sheep, weapons, people, probably cash, cigarettes, alcohol," Costantini said. "We don't really care about the sheep."

An effective way of decreasing IED hazard is getting rid of possible havens.

Costantini's job, today, is burning tires.

Four armored LAVs rumble up and down the highway. Every 100 feet or so, they disgorge a two-man crew which pours diesel fuel from an old water bottle on a rag, lights a match, and sets each tire on fire. The grimy, choking work continues for two hours. They cover 10 miles of road. Bllack smoke curls up and obscures much of the blue sky. Marines cleared about 17 miles on an earlier mission, and another patrol will burn the tires on the 5-mile stretch back to camp.

"We'd never do this in California," Costantini says ruefully. "When we started this last week, my Marines were like, 'Are you sure? Is this legal?' If I could, I'd drive around with 7-ton trucks and pick them all up as we go, I would. But I can't do that."

The 1st LAR will return to Camp Pendleton in a few weeks. LtCol Cosantini's wife and mother will be very happy to welcome their Marine home. They've provided unwavering support on the home front; Pat sewed and mailed hundreds of cool ties, and enlisted the help of many other volunteers including her 94 year old mother-in-law. 1st LAR Marines have performed admirably in the sandbox, and their work will make the job of the incoming Marines - including my son's battalion - easier. Not easy, but easier. And maybe, just a bit safer. Thank you, 1st LAR.

Posted by Deb at 02:44 PM | Comments (1)

July 13, 2004

Latest news from RCT-7

Col Tucker updates us again in this letter to families and friends of the RCT-7:

Dated 13 July 2004

It has been too long since my last letter. Thanks for being patient. Much has happened in the last month, most of it good.

I was sitting in my office on 28 June when word rolled in about 1000 that the transfer of sovereignty was moved forward two days and would occur at noon. That resulted in about two hours of hectic activity, but as 1200 approached everything I could do was done, and I sat quietly in my office waiting to see what the future would bring. I remember sitting back quietly in my chair at 1159, thinking how privileged and rare a moment it is to be present at, and contributed to, the rebirth of a nation.

And almost at that exact moment.as we collectively held our breath waiting for the nay-sayers and doom and gloom crowd to be proven rightthe Iraqi people quietly assumed responsibility for themselves and their communities. There is much to be done heremore terrorists to kill, more schools to build, more training of Iraqi Security Forces to accomplish, more children to provide with water and foodbut the nation is reborn. And the Iraqi people and ISF are working to give meaning and security to their history, their culture, and their communities. We are going to win this by exercising patience and tenacity in equal measure, and applying our intellect and common sense to the vastness of the complexity of our efforts. We will make progress inch by inch, but if you hold true to the cause that has brought us this far, we will win.

3d Battalion 4th Marines is home to 29 Palms. They are replaced by 1st Bn 8th Marines out of 2d Marine Division in Camp Lejeune. 1/8 has assimilated well, and is performing with competent professionalism.

Ok..picture time.
This first picture has a story as old as time itself. 4 men in their 40s holding a conference on the Syrian border when approached by a young, cocky 20-something with volleyball in hand and a gauntlet in his tone: "Hey Sirwant to play SOME volleyball.." Wellmale ego of course kicks in, and so the 4 old guys trundle out to the volleyball court to meet the tanned, muscled, cocky 20-somethings that make up the rest of the "team" A conspiracy at work here..,young men going to show the old men what's up. First, of course, the "pity" offer: "hey Sir, we'll split uptwo of you guys and two of us on a team so we can at least get a good game out of it." No deal4 old against 4 young. First match. Best of 3. Old Guys 15, Young Guys 6 or something. But they had the wind in their faceso we switch sides. Game 2. Old Guys 15, young guys 12. But now they had the sun in their eyes. Switch sides. And the rules have changed. Now we're playing best of 5. Game 3.

Wellwe only played 3 games. And the losers don't get their pictures on the website:

Four "old guys" who have still got it..
This is a picture I promised to get on here for about two months. These are the cooks assigned to Camp Korean Village. Their superb efforts under very challenging conditions account for about 80% of the morale at this far edge of the empire. Names
( not in order, but am sure mom and wives will recognize them): GySgt J. Harper, Sgt E. M. Limbak, Sgt C.E. Cason, Cpl M.A. Moore, LCpl A.J. Roske, Cpl A.J. Campbell.
TF 3/7 and members of the 504th Iraqi National Guard Battalion conducting pre-combat inspections before a joint patrol.
1st LAR Bn, on patrol near the Syrian Border.

We routinely receive letters and cards from organizations and schools in the U.S. We make a strong effort to answer most of them, especially the ones from kids. Usually the "answering takes the form of an announcement at the end of a shift for everyone to write a letter back and to bring it in the next day. We also have Iraqis who work with us as translators and contractors, and construction workers. One of the sections made the "write a letter" announcement at the end of a shift. The next day, three Iraqis, unbidden-but who had observed previous efforts and knew what we were doing---brought in their own letters and asked if they could include them in the package sent back to the kids. I am including two of the letters typed verbatim from the handwritten ones mailed:

"Dear friends and children,
Accept my greetings, and I would like to pass on the regards of the Iraqi people and their children. Our friend, I wish I could that the American soldiers will back their country soon to be among their families and children. I am interprator and working with them now they have a hard job. They try to rebuild Iraq, restore the natural life to Iraqis, provide hospitals with medicine, provide security and safety for all the people of Iraq as well as chasing terrorists and Saddams loyal. Dear friends, before the 9th of April 2003 we were living with our children in poverty and deprivation. We cannot live peacefully or look forward to the future, no one can achieve his dreams or study abroad but those of Saddams relatives. So we have in Iraq two big rivers but we have no pure water and some people still depend on well water. Now I think that Iraq looks better, most of Iraqis getting a good payment, they can provide for their families and buy candy for their children. People in villages begun to send their children to school, hospitals begun to provide people with good medicine and the Americans have achieved many many thing that may serve Iraqis. So how can we pay back America its favor to Iraq. Me and my 3 kids as well as my wife would like to thank all honest people in America and we wish them progress and prosperity so we also thank the American soldiers to liberate Iraq from Saddam and his loyalist. I wish that my children will be successful fruits in society and work to fulfill peace and passion among people all over the world.
Mustafa H. Ali
Baghdad, Iraq"

"Dear Americans,
Accept my best wishes. We lived with Saddam for a long time. We did not know anything about life except wars, executions and killing. Iraqis good people but Saddam made many criminals and terrorist and paid for them the riches of Iraq to kill the innocents mere they do not like Saddam and his party. When I was in primary school Bath Party taught me to hate America because it is the only enemy for freedom in the whole world but when I became adult I asked myself why many many people fleed to America a freedom enemy and a big satan as named by Saddam. But now we know everything about America. In Iraq now we see African American, Thai, Scottish, Polish, Asian and many others have American citizenship. Why because they found real freedom in America and want to build their future and achieve their dreams by having home, good family, and provide them with passion and security. In short, I have two daughters and wife and we all grateful the all Americans and all troops which participated in liberating Iraq.
Hashim Mohammed"

Easy to forget sometimes, in the midst of politics and media blitzes and the normal concourse of American political dialogue, easy to forget where we came from and what we stand for. If not now, when? If not us, who?

RCT-7 remembers the sacrifices of SSgt M.L. Best, 2d Bn 7th Marines killed in action 19 June 2004 vic Hit, Iraq and Cpl. D.L. Kerns, LCpl J.J. Vangyzen IV, LCpl M.S. Torres, 3d Bn, 7th Marines, killed in action 5 July 2004 vic Husaybah, Iraq.

Please remember their families and friends in your thoughts and prayers.

Share your Courage.

C.A. Tucker
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps
CO, RCT-7.

Posted by Deb at 11:19 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 12, 2004

New from the Green Side

Major Bellon has updated The Green Side. I was touched by his description of an in-country memorial service for fallen Marines.

One of our companies lost five killed and more wounded in a series of attacks. I am very fond of this particular company commander and his Marines. They are a special group in the community of elite people. This commander truly loves his Marines. He personally lost the gunner on his vehicle among the KIA. You are always close to your Marines, but inevitably you are closest to those on your crew or your radio operators or just those that you work closest with day in and day out. In a period of 7-8 days, this small group of men lost five of their own and several more seriously wounded. Words cannot describe the kind of hammer blow that goes through young men when their buddies are killed or evaced. It hits commanders the hardest and the better the commander the harder the blow. It hit this commander incredibly hard. There really is not much you can say to Marines at times like this. You just kind of be around them. I really am not 100% sure how, but this young captain allowed himself some short time to grieve and then was out in front of his men leading by example the very next day on both occasions. His guys are once again back on their mission and looking for ways to improve and take the fight back to the enemy. The dead Marines are never far from their minds, but they are able to get back to work by drawing closer and recommitting themselves to close whatever holes that made them vulnerable in the first place.

Earlier in the week, we were having a memorial service for another Marine that was lost in an ambush just outside of Baghdad. These services are always very moving as the Marines step out in front of the gathered masses and share their memories of the fallen. It always strikes me how heartfelt and well spoken the Marines are when they talk about their buddies. The stories are vivid and often funny and almost always heartbreaking.

There is always a picture of the Marine and out in front of the gathering is a single rifle stuck into the deck by its bayonet crowned with a helmet. The fallen Marine's dog tags hang from the rifle's handgrip and a pair of boots sit in front of the rifle. At the end of the service, each Marine in attendance marches in front of the rifle, clutches the dog tags and pays his last respect, one at a time.

The final man to speak at this service was our Regimental Commander. Again, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Of all the commanders that I have seen, I have never seen one that has cultivated more loyalty among his Marines.

He stepped out in front of the Marines and in a very poignant way reminded them that even though their friend and fellow Marine had died at a very young age, he died selflessly, among his brothers and with his honor in tact. The CO spoke of honor briefly and reminded the Marines that it is the one gift that a man gives himself and the one character attribute that makes each man a king. The fallen Marine's buddies should feel proud that the Marine that was lost was so fondly thought of and that even in his young life he was able to give himself the gift of honor. He ended his piece by referencing a recent article in a national publication. The author had gotten himself into a number of insurgent cells from southern Iraq to Baghdad to Fallujah. The author spoke about the terrorists' commitment and motivation to continue their cause. Surprisingly, it was not religion or ideology; it was hate for American and the West. Toward the end of his article, he asked one terrorist what he would do if the Americans were driven from Iraq and went back to America. The terrorist stated after some reflection that he and his men would follow us there....

And there you have it. We can fight this war over there or wait until it reaches our shores. It happened on September 11, 2001. It will happen again, if good men and women do nothing. When my son came home last year, he said that the biggest motivating force for himself and his friends was their certain knowledge that they were keeping our country safe so that we could enjoy the freedoms we take for granted. These young men made that sacrifice for us. It's not a small thing.

Posted by Deb at 07:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 26, 2004

Sibling Revelry

Promotions are events to be celebrated. And it's always nice to have a significant someone available to pin on the new rank. When a service member is deployed, it adds a wrinkle to the event. However, recently promoted 1st Lt. Catalina Kesler, the executive officer for Alpha Surgical Company, 1st FSSG, was able to call on her brother, Cpl. Fabian Estrada, a personnel clerk currently deployed with the MAG 16, 3rd MAW.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Rainey, MAG 13

Lance Cp. Matthew Rainey reports:

Kesler said she wanted her brother to pin on her new rank insignia but wasnt sure if he would be able to make the trip here. Word about Keslers upcoming promotion spread, and both commands worked quickly to unite the 21 year old with his sister.

My sergeant major and (commanding officer) told me I should come down here, said Estrada. I think its great. How many people get to promote a family member in Iraq?

Estradas in-country presence has one crucial effect on his sister, she concluded. We talk on the phone about once every week or two, Kesler said jokingly. He reminds me to call my mom.

Posted by Deb at 10:21 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 16, 2004

In the Line of Fire - More From Robert Kaplan

Here's an interview with Robert Kaplan who wrote Five Days in Fallujah in this month's Atlantic Monthly. It's an excellent look at his journey through a war zone with the Marines - and there are a number of interesting questions with illuminating answers. Here are two.

How did the Marines among whom you were embedded respond to your presence in the battalion?

The particular Marine grunts with whom I was embedded had the impression at first that journalists are violent people. I'm not kidding. After all, two reporters who had been embedded with them in 2003 during the war had gotten into a fistfight over a satellite phone, and a Marine captain had had to break it up with a body block. Aside from that, it was a typical situation for me. I've had long embedding experiences before with the Army Special Forces and the Marines. In the first few days you go through a sniff test, where the guys try to figure out whether you're an asshole or not. Once you're pronounced okay, the bonding can get intense. I email all the time with soldiers and Marines I've met in my travels. If you spend several weeks in close quarters with a bunch of guys under awful conditions, there is something deeply wrong with you if you don't make fast friends. Whereas Army Special Forces guys are in their thirties, Marines are a decade younger, so that makes it a bit more challenging for someone in his early fifties like me. The trick is to ask them nuts-and-bolts questions about what they do, not about how they feel. Profound, touchy-feely questions get you nowhere.


You describe much of the strategic planning for the Marines' attack on Fallujah as having been undertaken at the Abu Ghraib Combat Operations Center. Since then, the problem of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison has emerged as a major scandal. At the time you were there, did you have any inkling of what was going on?

The Abu Ghraib Combat Operations Center, at the Abu Ghraib Forward Operating Base, is a completely different place from the Abu Ghraib prison, which is some miles away. I did visit the prison a few times, however. A good part of the prison grounds is not a prison at all, but a base for Marines who help the Army's 1st Cavalry patrol the town of Abu Ghraib, which is one of the most crime beset in Iraq. The Marines I was with had no contact with the prisoners. They were told in no uncertain terms by their commanders that they shouldn't. I did see some of the living quarters where the Army units who did have contact with the prisoners lived. They had been defaced by soldiers' graffiti, and there was garbage and old food lying all around. A Marine commander ordered the place whitewashed before any Marines moved in, intimating that you can tell the character of troops by the way they live. He then berated what he called "the non-infantry part of the Army." His point was that the Army has great fighting divisions with real espirit de corps, like the 82nd Airborne, 10th Mountain, 1st Cavalry, etc. But the Army is vast, and there are all these units that fall between the cracks, like those later implicated in the prison scandal, which at the time we had little inkling of.

Read the rest.

Posted by Deb at 09:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 14, 2004

Five soldiers awarded medals

The awards included two Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medals and three Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medals. Each of the medals included combat "V"s for valor. And, BTW, they were Iraqi soldiers.

I was walking beside the Marine, then we heard gunfire, and I saw that the American Marine was shot. Then I realized it was just me and him, so I quickly started shooting at the enemy." Private Imad Abid Zeid Jassim, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps

Portions of Iraqi Private Imad Abid Zeid Jassim's citation for bravery reads: "...[A]s the firefight ensued, under a hail of enemy fire that was accurately targeted on the wounded [U.S.] Marine, and without regard for his own safety, Private Imad Jassim moved forward into the enemy fire and came to the aid of the wounded Marine. He dragged the wounded Marine out of the line of fire to a covered and concealed position...reengaged the enemy...aggressively pushed forward...dislodged the enemy fighters.... His efforts clearly saved the life of the Marine...."

On the evening of May 30, 2004, Jassim and his fellow members of 4th Platoon, India Company, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) were jointly patrolling the streets of Al Karmah, near Fallujah, with leathernecks from 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. All at once, the patrol was ambushed from the rear by enemy insurgents. A U.S. Marine was instantly struck down with a gunshot wound to the leg.

Reacting as they had been trained to do by their U.S. counterparts, the Iraqis swung into action.

Jassim, who was standing closest to the Marine when the latter was hit, immediately returned fire.

Sergeant Abdullah Sadoon Isa, Corporal Eiub Muhamad Hussane, and Private Ahmad Lazim Garib raced toward-and-beyond the downed American. Constantly under fire and simultaneously returning fire, Sgt. Isa quickly positioned other members of his platoon between the wounded man and the enemy.

Jassim and another private, Kather Nazar Abbas, stopped shooting long enough to begin dragging the American to a position of relative safety. Bullets and at least one rocket-propelled grenade zinged past their heads as they managed to pull the Marine behind a wall. A U.S. Navy medical corpsman rushed forward to render first aid. The Iraqis and the Americans continued battling the enemy force.

The response to the ambush was textbook. "The ICDC ultimately assaulted through the enemy's position and pushed them out," said 2nd Lt. Charles Anklin III, of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.

Posted by Deb at 12:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Teen Spirit

This is an incredible tale of bravery on the part of an Iraqi who risked his life to provide information to the coalition forces. And he's only fourteen.

One day in December, a smooth-chinned 14-year-old approached American soldiers at a checkpoint here and asked surreptitiously to be arrested. He told the soldiers that his father, an Iraqi Army officer under Saddam Hussein, led a 40-man cell of insurgents, and he agreed to show the troops where to find the men and their weapons. . . .

With the handover of sovereignty to an Iraqi government less than three weeks away, the troops who have used and befriended the teen are desperately seeking a way to get him to the U.S. The soldiers aren't sure how they can legally take the boy -- who isn't an orphan -- out of the country without it looking like Americans are stealing Iraqi children while there is no local government to stop them. It isn't likely he would qualify for entry into the U.S. without special governmental dispensation. And even if soldiers get him to the U.S., they'd still have to find an American family willing to take in an illiterate, street-hardened youngster who speaks little English.

Insurgents in Iraq know the teen's identity and that he has provided information to the Americans, according to the U.S. military. While U.S. commanders asked that his name and tribal affiliation not be disclosed, they are eager for publicity that might help the boy gain entry to the U.S. His story has been pieced together from interviews with him and U.S. military personnel, and from military records. While aspects of his personal history couldn't be verified because people involved are either dead, in U.S. custody elsewhere in Iraq or have moved, soldiers and Marines who have dealt with the teen say information he has provided about the insurgency has been accurate. . . .

These days, he spends his time lifting weights, watching war movies or action films on DVDs owned by the troops, and hanging out with the seven Marines with whom he shares a plywood-walled sleeping area. He wears his hair Marine-style, tight on the sides and high on top, and sports a set of fatigues the Marines gave him. His bunk is curtained off by a zebra-patterned blanket, and he has wedged a stuffed bulldog into the metal footboard.

In a wooden ammo box, he keeps his belongings: an American flag folded with military precision into a triangle, deodorant sticks given to him by soldiers, a box of Crayola crayons, fingerless gloves for weightlifting, a digital camera and First Sgt. Hendrex's floppy hat. If all else fails, some Marines say, only half-jokingly, they will hand Steve-O a rifle and march him onto the plane when the battalion leaves Iraq, in late summer or early fall.

At night, the teen says he sometimes wakes up in tears, thinking about his mother. For comfort, he assures himself all that has happened has been God's will. "If they don't take me to the States, I'm definitely going to be killed," he says matter-of-factly. He says he would like to return to school and one day enlist in the Army or Marine Corps. "I just want to be one of the American troops," he says.

Read the full story here. And consider whether this is worth a letter to your congressional representative. Mine will be hearing from me.

UPDATE: The link to this article is no longer available online. It was originally published in the June 14 WSJ and I have a copy of the text downloaded that I will send to those who would like to read the rest of the story - e-mail me at deb at marinecorpsmoms.com. I've heard from quite a few readers who would like to help get this kid to the United States. We can start by making sure our Congressional representatives know about this situation. I'll cover Oregon - can we get at least one letter out to reps in every state?

Posted by Deb at 12:37 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 10, 2004

Five Days in Fallujah

If you haven't picked up the July/August edition of The Atlantic Monthly, add it to your shopping list. And, pick up a few extra copies to send to deployed Marines - there is an excellent article by correspondent Robert Kaplan who describes the courage of the 1/5 Marines who went into Fallujah under the command of LtCol. Brennan Byrne, following the horrific ambush and murder of the civilian contractors. Here are a few excerpts from the article.

The briefing on April 2 at Abu Ghraib's Combat Operations Center was low-key and terrifically businesslike. The taking of a middle-sized city of 285,000 is an amazingly complex affair. Was there enough barbed wire on hand to create makeshift detention facilities? "We need wire, wire, and more wire", Byrne said, "and that means we needs lots of stakes and pile drivers." Were there enough interpreters, MREs, mineral-water bottles, ammo, power amps, blue force trackers, and so on?

This would be an incredibly complex operation without the complications of enemy combatants. But the Marines were up to the task.

The process was like writing and performing a symphony; its complexity demanded that the main briefings be "fragged" out into smaller ones dealing with different aspects of the task. . . . All the elements came together fast, owing to a factor largely missing from civilian life: the incontestability of command. Meetings quickly resulted in priorities that in turn quickly led to decisions. As soon as the ranking officer decided on something, the debate moved on to the next point.

The strategy was clear to Kaplan.

One officer told me, "This is a flash-bang strategy. Stun the bad guys with aggressive fire, then Psy-ops the shit out of them, always coming back to the theme of the inevitability of the superior tribe."

And the Marines were clearly the superior tribe.

"Gents, let me tell you what this is really about," Byrne said. "It's about killing shitheads." He made reference to the Commanding General, or CG, of the 1st Marine Division, Major General James N. Mattis. Mattis, who constantly drilled humanitarian concerns into his men, nevertheless knew when the time had come for pure aggression. "The CG", Byrne went on, "has changed the Op Order from 'capture or kill' the enemy to 'kill or capture. He wants the emphasis on 'kill'".

At 1:00 a.m. on April 5, the Marines stepped off. A few hours later, Kaplan wrote:

At dawn, coughing and freezing, I walked over to Byrne's Humvee. He was sitting in the backseat, his head half hidden inside a balaclava, shivering and coated with dust like the rest of us, and listening and talking to three different radio nets at once. Military command is about making split-second executive decisions, the consequences of which might psychologically immobilize your average CEO - and making those decisions during periods of extreme physical discomfort.

Leadership lessons learned in the Corps translate well to the outside world. I've lost count of the times that, upon seeing my Proud USMC MOM sweatshirt or pin that proclaims My son is a U.S. Marine, that a CEO or industry executive has come up to me and quietly said, "Semper Fi".

Kaplan was preparing a MRE when the Marines he was with came under RPG and small-arms fire.

The fire directed at us did not let up. Over the ICOM, Smith learned that it was coming from a mosque on Michigan, about 300 yards away. The mosque was promptly targeted for a possible air strike and everyone began a fast march towards it.

Smith did not have to order his Marines straight into the direction of the fire; it was a collective impulse - a phenomenon I would see again and again over the coming days. The idea that Marines are trained to break down doors, to seize beachheads and other territory, was an abstraction until I was there to experience it. Running into fire rather than seeking cover from it goes counter to every human survival instinct - trust me, I was sweating as much from fear as from the layers of clothing I still had on from the night before, to the degree that it felt as if pure salt was running into my eyes from my forehead. As the weeks had rolled on and I had gotten to know the 1/5 Marines as the individuals they were, I had started deluding myself that they weren't much different than me. They had soft spots, they got sick, they complained. But in one flash, as we charged across Michigan amid whistling incoming shots, I realized they were not like me; they were Marines.

Later, a large Iraqi family was ordered to leave their apartment so that Marines could search the building. Through his interepreter, Captain Jason Smith explained why to the head of the family:

"Sir, we are truly sorry that we had to ask your family to leave the building. You can all go back in now. We will compensate your for the inconvenience. We are United States Marines, a different breed than you are used to. We do not take kindly to people shooting at us. If you have any information on the Ali Babas, please share it with us. If you know any of the Ali Babas personally, please tell them to attack us as quickly as possible so that we may kill them and start repairing sewers, electricity, and other services in your city."

That's part of the first day. Buy the magazine and read the rest.

Posted by Deb at 10:56 AM | Comments (1)

June 09, 2004

It's about time

Check out this story in the June 14 issue of The National Review.

Ask Americans to name some of our soldiers in Iraq and chances are they'll readily identify Lynndie England, Charles Graner Jr., Jeremy Sivits, and Ivan "Chip" Frederick II. The three major networks have run over 200 stories on the detainee-abuse scandal, making the seven disgraced soldiers assigned to Abu Ghraib the most recognizable faces of American service in Iraq. The media's line of attack against the war is revealed in its selective coverage of our soldiers: All villains and victims, no valor. Not one of the heroes decorated for bravery in Iraq has received a minute of coverage from ABC, CBS, or NBC. National newspapers have run hundreds of stories on the scandalous service of the Abu Ghraib seven, but have made no mention of another seven whose stories of service could be recounted with Steven Seagal cast in the lead. In early May, Marine Captain Brian Chontosh, Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Perez, and Marine Sergeant Marco Martinez were awarded Navy Crosses for extraordinary heroism, an award second only to the Medal of Honor. Army Sergeant Gerald Wolford, Army Sergeant Major Michael Stack, Marine Staff Sergeant Adam Sikes, and Marine Corporal Armand McCormick ? and 123 others ? have been awarded Silver Stars for outstanding valor in combat. The stories of these courageous men represent the dedication of the tens of thousands of soldiers serving bravely and honorably in Iraq far better than the actions of a derelict nightshift in two isolated cell blocks.

The stories of that outstanding valor follow. Read it all.

Thanks to digital-marine for the link.

Posted by Deb at 09:27 AM | Comments (3)

June 05, 2004

Memorial Day message

The Commanding Officer of RCT-7 gave this Memorial Day message to his Marines:

"Americans across the globe pause today to remember and honor our nation's war dead. Back home, in cities, county parks, farming towns, and backyards amidst parades, picnics and speeches our country remembers millions. We gather here today, in a dusty courtyard on an airbase in Iraq, to remember 23.

Many have told me over these last few days that this short talk should reverberate with words linking those we remember today to great causes and purposes. I do not have those kinds of words in me today. I don't need them. The truth has nobility enough.

Our families and friends assemble today at their picnics and parades free of fear and terror. They assemble as the normal commerce of life in the U.S. proceeds apace, their children safe from the terror that stalks this globe. That sense of security and freedom from fear does not, however, make this enemy any less dangerous or any less real. This is a war against terror, fighting an enemy whose strategy is to focus his death and destruction on our families, our neighbors, and our citizens; an enemy whose tactics are designed to instill fear by killing our children in their homes as we stand helplessly by. That horror has moved away from our shores because men like you, and those men we remember today, are willing to endure the sacrifices required to engage this enemy here.

Each man we honor today paid the ultimate sacrifice, and when that moment of sacrifice alighted upon each Marine's personal battlefield, his feet stood fast, he stood to his duty, and he honored the loyalty of his friends and his fellow Marines. They were worthy of their country, of their forefathers, and of their buddies. We can pay them no greater honor than to paint each of them into our memory and to promise, each in our own way and each to our own thoughts, that we will never forget them.

And for as long as any here live, their memorial day will not be the last Monday in May; their memorial is their lives sculpted into the hearts of their friends, a memorial enduring for the generations all of you have left to live, a memorial that comes to life when we speak of them, laugh over their antics, cry over them, talk to our family and friends about them, or sit quietly and feel the pain of their loss to our fellowship.

As for me, I knew few of them personally, but I remember all of their names; I remember the hour and date of their death, I remember how and where they died, I know the names of those they left behind. And for the remainder of my days their memorial will be that remembering: that these young men I counted as my sons have far exceeded the honors of their fathers. "

In Memoriam

2ND Bn, 7TH Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Hit, Iraq
On 3 March 2004

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received Husaybah, Iraq
On 17 March 2004

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received Husaybah, Iraq
On 18 March 2004

2ND Bn, 7TH Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Hit, Iraq
On 19 March 2004

2ND Bn, 7TH Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Al Anbar Province, Iraq
On 1 April 2004

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Husaybah, Iraq
On 8 April 2004

1st LAR Bn
Died as a result of wounds received in Al Bu Jardin, Iraq
On 8 April 2004

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Sa'dah, Iraq
On 9 April 2004

3RD Bn, 4th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Fallujah, Iraq
On 11 April 2004

3RD Bn, 4th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Fallujah, Iraq
On 11 April 2004

3RD Bn, 4th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Fallujah, Iraq
On 11 April 2004

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Husaybah, Iraq
On 14 April 2004

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Husaybah, Iraq
On 18 April 2004

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Husaybah, Iraq
On 18 April 2004

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Husaybah, Iraq
On 18 April

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Husaybah, Iraq
On 18 April

3rd Bn, 7th Marines
Died as a result of wounds received in Husaybah, Iraq
On 18 April 2004

C Co, 1st CEB
Died as a result of wounds received in Al Asad, Iraq
On 17 May 2004

1st LAR Bn
Died as a result of wounds received on MSR Tin, Iraq
On 20 May 2004

1st LAR BnDied as a result of wounds received in Al Anbar Province, Iraq
On 23 May 2004

C Co, 1st CEB
Died as a result of wounds received in Hit, Iraq
On 26 May 2004

C Co, 1st CEB
Died as a result of wounds received in Hit, Iraq
On 26 May 2004

In April, Connie and I attended the funeral of LCpl Gary Van Leuven in Coos Bay, Oregon, the 12th Oregon Marine to fall while serving in Iraq. He died in the battle of Husaybah, trying to move another Marine who had been hit to safety. Connie's son was fighting with Cpl Van Leuven when he fell, and reports that he died a hero and a warrior.

In May, Connie, Janise and I attended the funeral of LCpl Bob Roberts in Portland, Oregon. He also died with valor, fighting for democracy and peace in a land that has known neither. This was the 13th funeral for an Oregon Marine. It does not get easier to attend these funerals.

Neither of us knew these brave young Marines before they died. Now, we will never forget them.

Posted by Deb at 09:04 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 04, 2004

Good news from Iraq

It's working. Our Marines are winning. Here's another update from Major Dave Ballon in Iraq. A snippet is excerpted below; go here to read the rest.

One town in particular that we have been successful in is near Falluja. During the April fight in Falluja, the muj took the town over and used it as a base of operations of sorts. From all reports, they were brutal on the people and very quickly subjugated the town. During one of the ordered pauses in the Falluja fight, we chopped a rifle company off the line with a very aggressive battalion commander. Basically he was told that we thought the muj were running lose in the area and that he should head up there and "develop the situation." I have gotten to know this guy pretty well here. He is a very good commander and a tough guy. In fact, I remember telling him that if he went past a certain point, he would be decisively engaged. We had estimated that if he got into a decisive engagement, he could be outnumbered by as much as 5:1. You can imagine what he did. He took his Marines right to that point.

Sure enough, the fight was on. It was a 360 degree engagement that lasted 8 hours. An 8 hour firefight is an eternity. To put it in perspective, this guy was in both OIF 1 battle for Baghdad as well as the Falluja fight. He states that the firefight up near this town was the toughest he has been in. We fired quite a bit of artillery and brought in a number of sorties of close air for them. By the time it was over, the estimates (now confirmed) are that they killed over a 100 muj. We could not understand why they kept coming but they did (more on that later). Throughout it all, very accurate mortar fire up to 120mm was falling inside the Marine position. Automatic weapons and RPGs were crisscrossing through the perimeter. The Marines just laid their in the micro terrain and squeezed of well aimed shots.

The Battalion Commander stayed that day until his guys broke the muj and he "owned the field" (his words). He then withdrew back to his original position. In the same town, we now have Marines living 24/7. They are conducting joint patrols with the Iraqi Police and the ICDC (Iraqi Civil Defense Corps). When they first arrived, the people were very standoffish and even hostile. Now we are getting more and more walk up intelligence (where the locals literally risk their lives in order to walk into our lines and tell us where the muj are). The reason for the turnaround is simple. We have pushed through the bow wave of intimidation and terror that dominated the town when the muj were there. The Marines did it through aggressive raiding and downright obstinate refusal to budge regardless of the costs. The people were watching the entire time and have made up their own minds where their best future lies. It has gotten to the point where the mujahadeen are now firing mortars indiscriminately into the town as it is the only effective means of maintaining any kind of influence over the people. Yesterday, they grievously wounded to citizens doing just that.

That is not to say that the town is a bed of roses for the Marines as we still have plenty of contact in the area and it is very dangerous but we are grinding them down and are about to put a good pounding on the enemy in the next few days. The people are talking and we are about to pay some more visits in the middle of the night. I could give you a couple more examples but it is a good illustration of what kind of work the Marines are doing every day.

There's more and it's all good.

Posted by Deb at 07:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

Update from the 2/7 Marines

Here's an update from the Battalion Commander and Sgt. Major of the 2/7 Marines, currently in Iraq.

By the time many of you read this, you should be returning home from the Memorial Day weekend. We hope you had a great time, wherever your travels may have taken you.

In this update, we can again say that we are steps closer to having the Iraqis prepared to take responsibility for their communities?which means we are winning. All of our efforts in the near future will be focused on training, equipping, and supervising the Iraqi security forces. The brave Iraqis we see on a daily basis are sincerely committed to their future. It is a sight to see. The people in the area welcome the fact that Iraqis are starting to take the lead on security responsibilities.

The biggest news out here is that there?s less and less BAD news. More and more Iraqis understand what the coalition is doing for them and they also know that they have to take care of their country?s security in the near future. The most dangerous encounter most of your Marines and Sailors are having is with the heat! It is starting to top 100 degrees regularly and the mercury continues to rise.

Before going too far in this letter, we?d like to take a moment to discuss (we had no idea people actually were waiting for this?) the, ?pigeons doing back flips,? comment we made a few updates ago. We were on an operation and one evening, before it became too dark, we observed a small flock of pigeons flying and doing back flips! The birds would fly, flip, and keep flying. As they were doing their flips, they would lose the air under their wings and appear to drop straight to the ground. But once the flip was complete, they continued to fly. Iraqis are fond of birds and they train birds to do tricks. We happened be located next to a house that trained such birds. It was an enjoyable end to a somewhat nerve-wracking day.

Put this story in the, ?Tell it to the Marines,? category.

Marine Corps lore holds that if a civilian does not believe a story about something or other in the world, his best bet to find the truth is to ask a well-traveled Marine. Your Marines and sailors have definitely been getting their fill of seeing things you would not believe. Sometimes we wonder what planet we are on here in Iraq. Many unique things take place on ?our streets.?

By the time you read this note, the long awaited 2/7 playground equipment will be delivered to several local schools. As the Iraqi public learns to trust us and perceive us as helpers and not conquerors, the less motivation they have to help the violent minority that live among them.

The good news only gets better! Slowly, but surely, the living conditions in all locations improve. There?s more hot food, better living conditions, and more air conditioners being installed (just in time). Most importantly, the mail is consistent. Keep those letters and care-packages coming! We love them!

Iraq is still a dangerous place, and yes, there is some instability. However, everyday Iraq grows more stable and peaceful. Everyday more Iraqis lean towards democracy and against terrorism as a means of change. The local newspaper we helped start shows that free speech is alive and well where your Marines and Sailors are serving. Your Marines and Sailors are key players in this democratic process. Remember: As Iraq grows more stable, America benefits, since Iraq becomes one less breeding ground for terrorism.

Thank your for continuing to share the courage? and thank you for all of your wonderful support. It means more than you know.

Posted by Deb at 09:12 AM

More on the "Wedding Party"

Via Jen Martinez, here's another report on the "wedding" that wasn't, from USMC LTCOL Bill Mullen:

Just reviewed a classified brief on the supposed wedding - no way it was. Here are some unclass details I can provide (brief had lots of pictures to back up the details):

- Weddings traditionally held on Thursdays in Iraq to take advantage of Friday as a day of rest - raid took place on Tuesday night.

- Only permanent dwelling at the site held large stocks of food, bedding, medical supplies (lots of these - was the wedding going to be a cage match of some sort or were the caterers just bad cooks?), ammunition and weapons, as well as an apparent document forging set up.

- Meat was still frozen solid, not prepared for a wedding feast and there were no stocks of dishes, plates, etc.

- Contrary to media reports, no "Nuptial Tent" was found and a 1KM area around the site was searched - any further away than that would just be too far for the catering staff to walk carrying all those huge platters of food.

There's more. Read the entire e-mail here.

Posted by Deb at 09:03 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

May 30, 2004

Seventy-two Reasons

Memorial Day is a day rich with meaning for Marines, Sailors, soldiers and airmen. They understand, perhaps better than anyone else, the sacrifices that have kept our country free. This tribute to our present day heroes was written by Sgt. Major Wayne R. Bell, 1st Marine Division to honor the memories of our Marines who have given their lives to uphold freedom during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Seventy-two. There are 72 reasons why this Memorial Day is a little more sacred this year, a little more solemn.

Seventy-two is the number of Marines, Sailors and soldiers assigned to the 1st Marine Division who were killed in action during combat operations in Iraq. Seventy-two patriots upheld our Corps Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. Seventy-two to whom we owe our pride, our dignity and our gratitude.

For most, Memorial Day will be a day off from work. Backyard barbecues, time with family and the kick-off to summer mark the day for most Americans. But most Americans aren't familiar with the sacrifices of our Marines, Sailors and soldiers.

Most don't know about Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, the 22-year-old Marine who dove on top of a grenade to save the lives of his Marines. But Marines do. Marines know that our Corps' legacy is built on such men, who selflessly gave their lives for their fellow Marines.

Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, such as Cpl. Dunham.

Lance Cpl. William J. Wiscowische was killed in Ramadi, Iraq trying to search out improvised explosive devices. He died trying to keep other Marines safe. We have no greater heroes than Marines such as Wiscowische.

Memorial Day is Wiscowische's day.

Lance Cpl. Elias L. Torrez III had one hand on the steering wheel and another on his weapon as he fired away at the enemy shooting at his Marines. His foot propped open the door to his humvee. He emptied two magazines on the enemy before he was killed.

Remember Torrez on Memorial Day.

Cpl. Daniel R. Amaya led his Marines from the front when he was killed in fighting in Fallujah. He always told his Marines he would be there, leading them. That's how he died, fulfilling his promise to his Marines.

Amaya's day is Memorial Day.

There are 72 reasons why this day, this year is more bittersweet than the rest. I've stood at the foot of memorials in Iraq. A single inverted rifle with identification tags and helmet honors fallen Marines. But Memorial Day is a day that we honor the sacrifices of all those Marines together with those who fought and died in Iraq last year and in Kuwait in 1991. We honor those Marines who were killed in Beirut in 1983. We honor those killed in VietNam and Korea. We remember the sacrifice of the Marines who forged our legacy in the swamps of Guadalcanal and on the beaches of Iwo Jima. Their sacrifice made us the Corps we are today. The sacrifices of the 72 killed in action in Iraq during this campaign is forging that legacy of selfless brotherhood, of one Marine laying down his life for another.

I am truly honored to have served with and continue to serve with some of the finest human beings on the face of the earth - U.S. Marines. I am humbled to stand in the shadows of these warriors who gave their lives for freedom. Their contributions enable this great nation of ours to enjoy the freedom that no other nation can.

It is because of the sacrifices of Marines like those who've fought and died for our country and Corps that I continue to serve. I am proud to serve my country and serve with my fellow Marines.

Although we do not have some of the basic comforts that we are normally used to when at home, we remain modest and determined to carry out all orders to their fullest, led by our noncommissioned officers, supervised by our staff NCOs and fully supported by the officers who issue those orders.

We continue to risk our lives daily in order to complete this mission to enable a country and its people to enjoy the freedom that we have enjoyed all of our lives.

Throughout the year, the sacrifices of our Marines are easily forgotten by most. As a national holiday, Memorial Day serves as a reminder to all to honor those men and women who gave their life in order to secure yours. It is the perfect time to thank those who answered their call to duty.

From my cover to yours, I salute those Marines, Sailors and soldiers on Memorial Day.

Join me: "No better friend; No worse enemy."

This Memorial Day, I'm visiting my son and his wife at the 29 Palms Marine Base. And Sgt. Major Bell is absolutely right. We, as a nation, owe our pride, our dignity and our gratitude to these brave troops that make it possible for us to enjoy a carefree holiday weekend. Thank you, Sgt. Major Bell for your service to our country. And, thank you for reminding us to remember, not just on Memorial Day but on every day.

Posted by Deb at 06:46 PM | Comments (4)

Message from the CG to those who wait at home

Dear Ladies;

As much as these days and weeks may drag by at times for some, out here they seem to fly by. Hard to believe that it's nearly June and the first of our units (1/5 and 3/4 who deployed in December to Okinawa) will begin rotating out of Iraq a mere 45 days from now.

It's getting hotter here with the temperature nearly 100, so the nights and early mornings are the best part of the day. That said, the real heat will hit soon enough and we are ensuring that the air conditioning for quarters, medical spaces, mess halls, etc. are fully functional to allow for a cooling atmosphere when the lads are not out on the prowl.

We have elements of two battalions that still need a/c and I expect they will be complete within days, surely prior to the 1st of June - much better situation than last year.

The spirits of the Sailors,Soldiers, and Marines remain very high, unperturbed by the heat, enemy action, news, media pessimism, or disturbing misconduct of a few leaderless jail guards at Al Ghraib prison. We are defined by our men, one act at a time - with compassion for the innocent and discrimination when using their weapons, a discrimination unkown to the morally bankrupt enemy we fight. You ladies know these selfless, high spirited troops better than anyone, so you know it's not false modesty when I admit I have the easiest job in the Division, thanks to the attention to duty, good humor, military efficiency and chivalry that these gallant young fellows display every day.

The drubbing that the enemy took over a month ago, from 7th Marines in the west near the Syrian border, to Falluja at the hands of 1st Marines, to Ramadi (the provincial capital) where 2/4 and the Soldiers of the 1st Brigade broke the enemy's back, continues to pay off. No large outbreaks of fighting have occurred now in over a month; the enemy lacked the will to come back at us. We continue to live in a very dangerous neighborhood however; the enemy remains an elusive foe who tries to use random explosive devices to cause us casualties. We also believe that the enemy, who lacks a political vision and can offer no positive future for the people fighting here, must come back out fighting again, or else watch as Iraq recovers from the years of Saddam and slowly but surely finds its path to freedom and prosperity.

We will be ready should the enemy make that mistake and rest assured, Ladies, that all our antennae are out and we are watching. We will not be taken by surprise.

So where along that path are we over here, the path to put Iraq back on its own feet, us on our way out of here? Iraq is what it is; two steps forward, one step back. Yet slowly but surely, we are making progress on the one track that is absolutely essential - the Iraqi Security Forces (Police, Civil Defense, Border Patrol, etc) are coming on line. With a lot of nurturing and coaching by your guys, the Iraqi Security men are stepping up to the plate and becoming more assertive. As they assume more responsibility, we will step back - we will always provide training and, if they get into trouble, we will come in, guns a-blazing. But they know that if they want a country, they must assume the security responsibility.

Now, for the first time, I can report with some confidence that we are (finally) on a track that will replace Americans and Azerbaijanis (yes, 7th Marines has a fine Azerbaijani Company working with them, wonderful troops) with the Iraqi Security Forces. Not soon enough for you and I, but at least we have a way ahead for replacing us in many of the precarious locations we have had to operate in until now.

The transition to Iraqi sovereignity will occur on 1 July. While the effect of that date will be miniscule in some respects to us, it is nonetheless a Red Letter Day along the road to Iraq's future as a pluralistic state. Yes, there will still remain some murderous criminals but, inexorably, the enemy will find himself marginalized and on the run, as maturing Iraqi police and pinpoint raids by the Coalition Forces leave him no place to hide.

I will be visiting the States in mid-June. I will see our wounded at Bethesda and then return to California where I will brief the commanders and conduct pre-deployment briefs for units inbound to Iraq to replace the seven-month tour battalions during the June to September time frame. I will also come to 29 Palms and Camp Pendleton to address those ladies who want an update about the situation in Iraq. I hope to see as many of you as possible at those events.

All is as good as it can be here. We stick together and hear only great things about the team you have created at home, as you set your own high standard of caring about one another, of seeing one another through this time of hope and anguish. I cannot thank you enough; the words themselves are never sufficient, but thank you, every one of you, for the love and support that you send our way. Nothing reminds us more of all that is good in this world than the memory and the reality of you, who compose your own lives and maintain a degree of stability in our lives that defies explanation.

I wish you all good things as we go forward, together, to do what our Nation needs its Marines to do in this fight.

Jim Mattis

Posted by Deb at 06:38 PM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2004

2/2 Marines Update

USN news reporter PO Sean Galloway reports that morale among the Marines is good despite conflict. LtCol Giles Kyser, CO of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, commented:

"I really wish each and every one of you had the opportunity to watch what these young men do here every single day. To walk in the shadow of greatness. That may sound corny, but that's what it is. Even when these Marines are wounded, their first question to me is 'Hey sir, how's my buddy?' And then they tell me, 'Hey, this isn't going to slow me down, sir, I'll be back in the fight.' That's the kind of young men they are. It's absolutely amazing."

These pictures of the 2/2 Marines were sent along by Jarhead Dad:

Posted by Deb at 11:24 AM

May 20, 2004

Desert Mail Call

Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks

Mail means motivation to our troops. Letters from home are saved and read over and over again. Here, 1/6 Marines sort mail that arrived at their location via a resupply convoy. Even though they are in the middle of Afghanistan in a combat operation, mail is a priority and the Marines received their mail mere days after it arrived in country.

Show your support and appreciation to our troops deployed overseas by sending notes, letters, postcards and drawings to Desert Mail Call. This effort is designed to allow the communities across the country to directly impact the morale, welfare, and pride of the Marines and other service-members stationed abroad. Mail will be added to care packages and sent periodically to the troops via Marine Corps Community Services in 29 Palms. If you have 10 minutes to write a letter or send a card, it would bring a touch of home to those who are far away.

Please send your mail to:

Desert Mail Call

P.O. Box 6145

Twentynine Palms, CA 92278

Posted by Deb at 10:04 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

May 16, 2004

Latif urges support for U.S. troops

An online Boston Globe article, from embedded reporter Katarina Kratovac, reports that the Irai general appointed to lead Iraqi security forces in Fallujah has urged sheiks and tribal elders to support American efforts to bring stability and peace to Iraq.

''We can make them (Americans) use their rifles against us or we can make them build our country, it's your choice,'' Latif told a gathering of more than 40 sheiks, city council members and imams in an eastern Fallujah suburb.


The venue offered a rare insight into Latif's interactions and influence over Fallujah elders. As he spoke, many sheiks nodded in approval and listened with reverence to his words. Later, they clasped his hands and patted Latif on the back.

Latif, speaking in Arabic to the sheiks, defended the Marines and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

''They were brought here by the acts of one coward who was hunted out of a rathole Saddam who disgraced us all,'' Latif said. ''Let us tell our children that these men (U.S. troops) came here to protect us."

''As President Bush said, they did not come here to occupy our land but to get rid of Saddam. We can help them leave by helping them do their job, or we can make them stay ten years and more by keeping fighting.''
Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, the Marine battalion commander, said, ''No truer words have been spoken here today than those by General Latif.''

It worked in Najaf last year. I'm crossing my fingers that it will work in Fallujah now.

Posted by Deb at 11:37 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

E-mail from Iraq

The 2/7 Marines from 29 Palms have seen some fierce fighting since they arrived in February but, according to the battalion leadership, they've "turned the corner". We can't wait to welcome these guys home later this year. One of the Marines in this battalion went through high school, the DEP and boot camp with my son. They graduated the same day, went through SOI together and hoped to be assigned to the same unit. Jesse was sent to the 2/7 and my Shane flew to Iraq to join his 1/7 unit already in Iraq. Here is an update from the 2/7 battalion commander.

Battalion Update to Family and Friends of 2/7

It seems like only yesterday that we were writing to all of you, but time flies here in Iraq, with the unit being so busy helping the Iraqis build a new future. It has been almost three weeks since we last updated you! Now is a great opportunity to update the family and friends of 2/7 and share some very positive news.

Since our return from operations east of here, quite a few constructive events have taken place?the most important is that we have gained much more support among the people in our corner of Iraq. The upbeat relations with the locals, Iraqi police, and families in the community are the result of continued hard work by your Marines and Sailors. In a sense, we have turned one corner in the maze that is Iraq. This is giving us a boost in already high morale.

The problems that the Iraqi people face are very complex, require patience, social energy, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to listen in order to solve these challenges. The majority of the problems your Marines face do not require us to use our military training. For instance, the simple act of relaxing and listening to someone who has been denied a free voice for more than 35 years goes a long way.

Watching the men and women of the battalion listen intently as a farmer, businessman, or grandfather discusses a problem, or simply ?vents,? goes a long way toward understanding the people we continue to meet each day. We remain convinced that the majority of the people we meet each day all yearn for the same things?safety, a secure family and home, as well as a job and respect. Your Marines and Sailors are helping deliver these things by providing security and assisting the Iraqi security forces in performing their jobs better. The road to rebuilding Iraq is far from complete, but we are encouraged each day by our experiences in the communities, towns, and cities we operate in and around. 2/7 is indeed winning; don?t let anyone tell you differently.

We think of those most important to us?our families at home?all the time. You give us the resolve to continue winning this fight. You have the toughest job in all of this. Thank you for sharing the courage.

Semper fidelis,

LtCol Phil Skuta and SgtMaj Dave Plaster

Posted by Deb at 06:38 AM | Comments (1)

May 11, 2004

Quote of the Day

"Sometimes history is written in hot, little dusty places on the Earth," Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, told his troops when the mission to escort him into the city was done. "That's what we did today, and it's good history."

Posted by Deb at 07:08 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Problem Solved

How are Marines different from the Army? Here's a clue from a currently deployed USMC PFC. When the Marines came back to Iraq earlier this year, they were briefed on what to expect from the departing Army. In one camp, they were warned to wear their Kevlar every night from 18:00 - 22:00 because that was when the camp was mortered. The Marines were incredulous but, sure enough, that evening there was incoming live ammunition. The next night, Marines had artillery staked out around the camp. When the bad guys showed up, the Marines took them out. Problem solved.

Posted by Deb at 12:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 09, 2004

Frisbees over Fallujah

When a tank becomes stuck, getting it unstuck can be a challenge in more than one way. In this report from Camp Falluja, Civil Affairs Marines took the opportunity to show local citizens the friendly side of the Marine Corps.

Photo by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

Navy corpsman Marcos A. Figueroa, blows soap bubbles for kids in a village near Fallujah.

Marines from 3rd Civil Affairs Group, based out of Camp Pendleton, visited the hamlet dubbed Tank Village and surrounding communities May 6 to compensate for the damages.

"All of this is a chain reaction from where the tank got stuck," said Lt. Col. Colin P. McNease, the officer-in-charge of the 3rd CAG detachment under Regimental Combat Team 1. "Aside from paying for damages, we told them we could start some projects out here."

It didn't take long for the word to spread that Marines have taken an interest in lending a helping hand.

"People from other villages heard that we compensated for the damages, but also saw that we brought fertilizer and tools for that one village," McNease explained. "As we were leaving, they waved us down wondering if we're willing to work with their villages too."

Here's a report from the front lines, courtesy of Jim Hake from Spirit of America:

Message from LtCol McNease

We went out to the village where the tank got stuck, about 3 km northeast of Fallujah. The area is a dirt road farming village of conrete or mud brick houses strung along a single road which runs from a cemetery to a 'T' intersection. The people have gotten to know the Marines since the tank spent a week there before we could pull it out. They were friendly to the Marines who already felt bad about trashing their canals and fields while trying to unstick the M1A1. When we went out to pay damage claims for all the lost crops and date plam trees and torn up roads, we saw a lot of kids around and met a few of them. This made us think of the SoA stuff, especially the soccer balls and frisbees, we had been sent and had back on Camp Fallujah.

The next time we went to visit the village, we took as many of the soccer balls and frisbees as we could fit into the open space in the back of our hummers (around chow, water, ammunition, radio batteries, etc.) When we arrived at the village and parked the HMMVWs in the center, some shy but curious kids were peeking out from doorways or looking out their windows. But when we pulled out the soccer balls and handed the first one out, they started coming out like ants to a picnic.

None of them wanted frisbees at first, all really wnated the soccer balls. But when we ran out of soccer balls and kept handing out frisbees they would line up to take them, sometimes trying to get more than one, and many making sure their little brothers or sisters got one as well. They didn't know what to make of the frisbees at first, holding and throwing them like dinner plates, but once they had a little professional military education on how to operate the frisbee and were checked out on it, a lot of them became surprisingly good surprisingly quickly. I spent almost 45 minutes tossing the disc with one very young girl who got to be quite accomplished.

Some of the the kids' parents and some of the older kids who could read did pick up on the friendship message and would point to the english and then point to the arabic and give us a thumbs up to show that they understood that they meant the same thing in both our languages.

This took place at a time when we were being shot at in most every other place we went so it was particularly gratifying, and it was nice to have something good to give them. Other things they seem particularly crazy about are sunglasses (they always want ours) and colored pens.

When these Marines deployed in February, they took shipping containers filled with school medical supplies, toys, and - of course - frisbees and soccer balls.

The Marines in the An Najaf province last year lost more soccer games than they won . . . but in the process of losing games, they won the respect and cooperation with the locals. No Marines casualties from hostile action were recorded from April, when they arrived in An Najaf, to October when the last Marines came home.

Recently, a number of bloggers ran a friendly competition to raise funds for the Spirit of America Foundation and in just a week, raised more than $55,000 to help our Marines with nation-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fundraising continues - make your donation here.

Posted by Deb at 08:28 PM | Comments (1)

May 06, 2004

Update from 3/7 Marines Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Lopez

Greetings from Al Qaim,

The Marines, Sailors and Soldiers of Task Force (TF) 3/7 are hard at work establishing security and bringing a better life to the people of Al Qaim. You can be very proud of our performance. We are actively engaged in establishing local governance, local Iraqi police forces, and improving schools.

Lima Company, supported by Marines from Weapons Company and detachments from throughout the TF, are responsible for overseeing the border check- point crossing with Syria and for the town of Husayba. They have built a forward operating base and will soon have many of the creature comforts, to include an Internet caf鬠that will allow them to keep in better contact with loved ones.

Kilo Company and attachments are running the towns of Karabala (not to be confused with our last deployment to Karbala) and Sada. They have responsibility for a large portion of the main road that runs through our sector. Kilo is also working with supporting operations in Husayba. India Company is providing security for the camp at Al Qaim, which is an old railway station and repair depot. India Company, along with our Military Police Platoon, has started the first and second class of the newly formed training academy for the Iraqi police force. They also have responsibility for managing and training the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC).

Weapons Company has responsibility for the town of Ubady and providing security throughout the TF?s area. They have already executed school projects and a clean-up project in their area. Portions of Weapons Company are directly supporting the other companies in the TF. As always the Marines and Sailors of H&S Company are hard at work supporting the efforts of the entire TF. They are meeting the challenge of running a small village of our own here at the Forward Operating Base Al Qaim. Keep us in your prayers! We appreciate all the support we are getting from the home front. Lt Huerta and the Remain Behind Party are there to serve your needs.

God, Family, Country And Corps,
Lt Col M.A. Lopez

Posted by Deb at 10:44 PM | Comments (6)

Puppy Love

Meet Melissa.

Photo by: Staff Sgt. Houston F. White Jr.

She is the newest and, at 11 weeks, youngest member of the Marine Aircraft Wing currently serving in Al Taqqadum, Iraq. And, she's a gift from the Commanding General.

"I believe all Marines, in their hearts, are dog lovers," said Maj. Gen. James F. Amos, commanding general, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, "so it's easy to have compassion for a dog who is out in the middle of a war zone. I felt that maybe a dog would pick their spirits up and be something the squadron could identify with and get a touch of home.",

Melissa was airlifted with other supplies and presented to Lt. Col. David R. Leppelmeier, commanding officer of the Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, Marine Wing Support Group 37.

"I know that having her around has changed the atmosphere around the unit, because everybody knows that she lives here in the compound and everybody pets her. She might get in their way sometimes or gnaw at their feet, but no matter what, Melissa is the one little distraction that reminds them of their pet at home," said Leppelmeier.

"Melissa is great. She knows how to play me like a fiddle," he chuckled. "She's really changed my whole world and helped me out a lot. She's just like a daughter to me and I can't imagine waking up and not having her around."

Melissa's mother, Luci, is now assigned to the Marines in Al Asad.

"Luci was working with Army Special Forces on the streets of Baghdad and over a period of time, she kept following them around whenever they went on patrols," the general said. "Luci was credited with saving their lives a couple of times because of her ability to sniff out an ambush and bark to alert them."

And, she looks good in camo:

Photo by: Sgt. David M. Walsh

Other Marine units have adopted dogs - or the dogs have adopted them. Last year, my son spent several months in Al Hillah. He and a few buddies were joined by Cody, a faithful friend and companion who patiently waited for them and accompanied them to and from post. They fed him from their MREs and, much to his disgust, gave him a bath. I added dog biscuits and flea treatment to my twice-weekly care packages. Here's a picture of my son with Cody. The ruins of Babylon are in the background - he walked through them every morning to get to his guard post.

Cody was a morale-boosting addition to Shane's platoon - many of them left pets behind when they deployed and they enjoyed the undemanding companionship that Cody provided.

Posted by Deb at 08:37 AM | Comments (1)

May 02, 2004

Winning Hearts and Minds

Last month, the 3/7 Marines engaged in a number of battles and proved that there is No Worse Enemy than a U.S. Marine. Now, they are finally getting a chance to display the No Better Friend part of their philosophy. Here, Sgt. John Alcaraz stops to chat with Iraqi children during a foot patrol. By walking instead of riding, it is easier to interact and build relationships with local Iraqis.

Photo by: Sgt. Jose L. Garcia

Last year when my son was deployed, I filled up his care packages with pencils, Tootsie Roll pops, Matchbox cars, etc. so that he could pass them out to the children he encountered while providing security for the city of An Najaf. This year, I'm already collecting for the packages I'll send when he redeploys.

Posted by Deb at 12:39 PM

April 22, 2004

A Mother's Wait

As a mother of a US Marine serving heroically for our country, waiting is just part of the game. But when the conflict in Iraq changed dramatically last weekend, the waiting game changed as well - it was a constant need to hear my sons voice and to know that he was fine. But, the waiting went from moments to minutes to days, ultimately three days later, Monday evening at 10:00pm actually. I answered the phone and heard his voice, "hi mom" . There was a sudden glorified relief and then the realization of are there words to express both my happiness and my sadness for him. He had lost five fellow Marines and it was evident that the aftermath of Saturday's battle was heartwrenching. His voice was low and he seemed a little disoriented, 'what time is it, and what day is it?' His number one request was to pray for the families of these brave and giving men. Once again, we are reminded that freedom is not free, and all of us as Americans living free should count the many blessings, even a phone call.

As, our conversation continued, it was short and the conversation was limited to making sure his family was doing OK, unselfishly focused on others in his life, both in Iraq and at home. He shared that being in a remote area of Iraq mail is very slow. Many Marines still are not receiving mail. And, communication is limited at a time when our troops need to hear the encouragement from the American people that they are supported and recognized for the job they are doing for people who are having a hard time adjusting to a new found freedom. I asked my son what can we do? He said that Marines are without socks, please send socks. Every package that arrives is like someones birthday. They all stand around and watch to see what is opened up and then they share the goods. Today, I will send a package that I know will be a present to someone, one that will be shared with many and appreciated more than I will ever know. A small token of my appreciation of the freedom I have everyday. God bless our US Marines! God bless my son!

Posted by Deb at 12:17 PM

April 17, 2004

Life in Fallujah

U.S. Marines (2/1, Echo Co, 1st Plt.) provide security in Fallujah as a family gathers food and supplies from their home. Although they were urged to find temporary shelter away from the city until hostilities cease, the family wants to return home.

"They don't care of gun shots, they want to live in their homes because they feel safe Americans here," said Peshi, an Iraqi interpreter who is attached to Company E.

USMC photo by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen)

Posted by Deb at 12:16 AM

April 16, 2004

Marines 100, Enemy 0

The insurgents gave it all they had. The Marines won a decisive victory.

"Last night, they were all around us ? in front of us, in back of us, everywhere," said Lt. Lewis Langella, who commands a squad of snipers and infantry on Falluja's outskirts. "They were throwing a whole lot of lead at us, and we were throwing a whole lot back."

For the past week, marines have been fortifying positions across this dusty city of monochromatic tan brick. Even though urban warfare is compact and fluid, there are still front lines ? here, a row of rooftops occupied by marines looking down on garbage-strewn streets.

One of the most important tools for this battle comes from the garden shed: sledgehammers. On Wednesday, marines punched "mouseholes," just big enough for gun barrels, in the brick walls of the homes they occupied. They also smashed windows to scatter shards of glass across the front steps.

"It's an early warning system," Capt. Shannon Johnson explained, as he crunched noisily across the glass, "something the old guys taught us."

Nearby, a squad of young men with crewcuts swung heavy hammers under a punishing sun. They were knocking down the low walls along the rooftops so they could move on catwalks from roof to roof.

"This is classic urban warfare," said Maj. Gen. Jim Mattis, commander of the First Marine Division. "It's all the stuff World War II taught us, along with Korea, Vietnam and Somalia. People will be studying Falluja for years to come."

The weaponry ? mostly low-tech, like machine guns and mortars ? is also reminiscent of earlier wars. There have been a few guided-missile attacks from the air. But Falluja is so densely populated ? 300,000 people in only a few square miles ? that commanders have been reluctant to call in airstrikes.

Two Marines were wounded during the 14-hour battle, although their injuries were not life-threatening. More than 100 enemy combatants were killed.

"It's their Super Bowl," said Maj. T. V. Johnson, a Marine spokesman. "Falluja is the place to go if you want to kill Americans."

If this is their Superbowl, I know which side I'm betting on.

Posted by Deb at 01:24 PM